Wasted by Waste

Wasted by Waste

Save the Carrots

Food waste is a problem that we face as a planet. While the problem is bigger than you and me, there are steps that can be taken to address the issue and make a positive difference. Check out the paper below for more information.

Wasted by Waste

            When you think of food waste, what do you think of? Do you think of the crust from your sandwich or a few fries that you leave behind on your plate from lunch? Maybe you think of when you throw out leftovers that have been in the refrigerator for a week and you’re not quite sure if they’re still edible. How about that slightly bruised apple that met its end in your trash can the other day? While these are great examples of household and restaurant food waste, what many don’t consider is the waste involved throughout the supply chain before ever getting to your plate and the effects of throwing all that food away.


The amount of food that is wasted each year is appallingly enormous. As our planet’s human population rapidly increases, we will see our existing food crisis become increasingly dire. In addition to increased population, the issue of climate change will affect food production and be affected by food waste, further straining our fragile global food supply.  Even as recently as 2015, nearly 13% of all households in the United States were food insecure (Coleman-Jensen, Gregory, and Rabbitt). The fear surrounding the safety of consuming expired food, as well as being liable for donating expired and ugly food, causes more damage to the environment and economy than extending sell by dates and easing visual standards of produce.


The amount of food wasted in the US is shocking and disgusting. According to the USDA, Office of the Chief Economist, the amount of food wasted in 2010 is estimated to be about 30-40 percent, which corresponds to about 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion (OCE/USDA, “USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | USDA’s Activities”)! This is food that could have been provided to families in need. Instead, it was sent to landfills, where it generated methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.


Many don’t consider the environmental effects of food waste. It takes an immense amount of water to grow vegetables, fruit, and nuts, as well as tons of corn to raise livestock and a nearly unimaginable amount of energy to harvest, transport, and package all these goods. When you throw away that mealy apple, you’re throwing away the water that it took to grow the apple as well as the fuel that it took to pick, sort, and transport that apply to your local supermarket. According to a study published by the Public Library of Science, “Food waste now accounts for more than one-quarter of the total freshwater consumption and ∼300 million barrels of oil per year” (Hall et al.). This shocking fact doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of pollution that burning 300 million barrels of fuel does to the environment.

The burning of 300 million barrels of oil, throwing away a quarter of our drinking water, and allowing food waste to decompose in landfills generates enough greenhouse gasses to be its own very large, very dirty country! “Wasted food… Smog and Pollution by Food Wastegenerates more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the U.S. and China” (Smith, Roff). In our current situation, we are scrambling to find ways to slow, stop, and hopefully reverse climate change. This is a necessity to preserve the planet and therefore humanity. While we can’t completely stop climate change through decreasing food waste, doing so would certainly help to slow the damage being done.


In an article entitled, “8 Ways to Fix the Global Food Crisis,” by Kent Garber and Marianne Lavelle, I found a powerful section entitled, “Share the Crowded Planet.” As we unavoidably continue to grow, the food crisis will become more severe. “The food crisis is, above all, a warning sign of the strains that face a planet of 6.6 billion people… Population is on track to rise to 9.1 billion by 2050” (Garber). Now nine years since the essay was written, “the current world population is 7.5 billion as of May 2017,” we’ve grown nearly one billion in population (Worldometers). That means that we’re on track to significantly surpass that 9.1 billion by 2050 estimate. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “The current world population… is expected to reach… 9.7 billion in 2050” (United Nations/Department of Economic and Social Affairs). We need to support legislators willing to examine the issue and take action to find ways to reduce food waste.


Ethically, the top priority in the act of decreasing food waste is to feed the hungry. In America in 2015, “42.2 million people lived in food-insecure households,” and “6.4 million children lived in food-insecure households in which children, along with adults, were food insecure” (Coleman-Jensen, Gregory, and Rabbitt). It is unacceptable that a developed country, such as the United States, can justify throwing away billions of dollars in food when millions of families don’t know where their next meal will come from in America. Worldwide, “an estimated 805 million people go to bed hungry each night” (Smith, Roff).


One issue that further exacerbates the problem of food waste in our daily lives is expiration dates. We know them as “sell by” and “best by” dates. Growing up in poverty as a child meant that much of the food that my family received was from our local food banks and much of it was long expired. Did you know that milk is good for a month, or more, past its expiration date? Neither did my wife until I refused to allow her to dump a perfectly good gallon of milk simply because the expiration date had passed. Have you ever eaten a can of food that expired years before? I have and it was just a delicious as a can bought at the store the same day. According to a Harvard Food Law Study, there are insufficient federal guidelines or standards that ensure consistency in date labeling and our current labeling system needs to be reformed to prevent food waste and increase knowledge regarding food safety. “This convoluted system is not achieving what date labeling was historically designed to do—provide indicators of freshness. Rather, it creates confusion and leads many consumers to believe, mistakenly, that date labels are signals of a food’s microbial safety” (Pierluisi et al.). The study goes on to discuss some simple solutions to reform the current labeling system such as clearly labeling dates as either being a “safe before” and “best before”, adding freeze by dates, and completely removing dates from non-perishable foods to prevent confusion.


A large percentage of waste happens at grocery stores and restaurants. While some grocery stores and restaurants certainly do donate to food banks and local charities, many do not. In my years working at Starbucks and Noah’s Bagels, Starbucks would donate all the pastries and sandwiches to our local food bank at the end of each day, while Noah’s bagels would throw away all the bagels in the dumpster and even forbid the minimum wage employees from taking any bagels home at the end of the day for donation or consumption. When I asked my manager why we didn’t donate, the first reason that he mentioned was the liability. The corporation didn’t want to be responsible for someone getting sick from eating a day-old bagel. Considering bagels generally sit in customer’s pantries at their homes for a week or so, this didn’t make much sense. The second excuse was that we simply didn’t have the manpower or connections to either deliver or arrange a pickup for the donated food.


I now know that each of those issues can be solved. “In 1996, President Clinton signed into law The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act,” which

Corporate Food Donation is Important

specifically protects food donors from liability if the donations make someone sick or cause harm (FDC). The USDA website dedicated to food waste lists over 50


different resources and organizations dedicated to assisting businesses in food donation (OCE/USDA, “USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | Resources | Recovery/Donations”). I was happy to hear from an old colleague at Noah’s that the location I previously worked at has begun to donate the leftover pastries and bagels at the end of the day because there is no reason for any business to continue to throw out edible food.


In the USA, where hundreds of billions of pounds of food and therefore billions of dollars are wasted, it’s unconscionable that there are tens of millions of people that go hungry each day. The problem is not one that will go away on its own or resolve itself. Our population is growing at a rate that constantly surpasses estimates and this reality means that within the lifetime of children being born today, our planet’s population will likely double that of ten years ago. In a time when we are struggling to cut down pollution to preserve our planet and our future as a race, we should not be throwing edible food in landfills to generate more pollution. It’s up to us to be mindful stewards of our planet and you can do your part by preventing waste whenever possible.


You can help reduce food waste by buying less at the grocery store and planning your meals. Understand that food that has passed its best by or sold by date doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not safe to eat. Push your legislators to write legislation to better regulate food date labeling standards and guidelines. Buy the ugly fruit at the grocery store so that it doesn’t end up in the garbage. Ask your regular grocery stores and restaurants how they dispose of edible food and let them know that it’s important to you as a customer that they participate in food donations and sustainable methods of disposal. Most importantly, remember that change starts with you.

 Cute Baby Eating Possibly Expired Fruit and Happy About It


Work Cited


Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Christian Gregory, and Matthew Rabbitt. “USDA ERS – Key Statistics & Graphics.” N.p., 2016. Web. 29 May 2017.

FDC. “Food Donation Connection – Donate Food – Harvest Program.” N.p., n.d. Web. 4 June 2017.

Hall, Kevin D. et al. “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact.” Ed. Thorkild I. A. Sorensen. PLoS ONE 4.11 (2009): e7940. Web. 31 May 2017.

OCE/USDA. “USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | Resources | Recovery/Donations.” N.p., n.d. Web. 4 June 2017.

—. “USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | USDA’s Activities.” N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2017.

Parfitt, Julian, Mark Barthel, and Sarah Macnaughton. “Food Waste within Food Supply Chains: Quantification and Potential for Change to 2050.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 365.1554 (2010): n. pag. Web. 29 May 2017.

Pierluisi, Jacqueline et al. “The Dating Game: Students in the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, with Research Assistance from Harvard Food Law Society Members.” n. pag. Web. 4 June 2017.

—. “The Dating Game: Students in the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, with Research Assistance from Harvard Food Law Society Members.” n. pag. Web. 31 May 2017.

Smith, Roff. “How Reducing Food Waste Could Ease Climate Change.” National Geographic. N.p., 2015. Web. 1 June 2017.

United Nations/Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “World Population Projected to Reach 9.7 Billion by 2050 | UN DESA | United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.” N.p., 2015. Web. 4 June 2017.

US EPA. “Overview of Greenhouse Gases.” n. pag. Web. 29 May 2017.

Woldometers. “World Population Clock: 7.5 Billion People (2017) – Worldometers.” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2017.

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