OP-ED: Take a Bite Out of Food Waste this Earth Day

By EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney

This year’s Earth Day theme, “Feed People, Not Landfills” is a powerful reminder about the importance of preventing food waste. Did you know the average family throws away $1,600 a year on wasted food—equating to over 400 pounds per person? In 2013, more than 37 million tons of food waste was generated. Put another way: 31 percent of the available food supply went uneaten.

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Everyone can help reduce food waste, and the benefits—social, economic and environmental—are great.

Wasted food is a social problem: In 2013, 14.3 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during the year. That is 48 million Americans, of which 16 million are children, living in food insecure households. Wholesome, nutritious food should feed people, not landfills.

Wasted food is an economic issue: It is estimated that at the retail and consumer levels in the United States, food loss and waste totals 161 billion dollars.

Wasted food is an environmental problem: Food is the largest stream of materials in American trash. Rotting food in landfills releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

So what can you do to help your family reduce food waste, save money and reduce your environmental impact? Most people don’t realize how much food they throw away every day — from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce.

EPA’s Food: Too Good to Waste Toolkit (https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-too-good-waste-implementation-guide-and-toolkit) can help you figure out how much food is really going to waste in your home and what you can do to waste less.

By making small shifts in how you shop for, prepare, and store food, you can save time and money, and keep the valuable resources used to produce and distribute food from going to waste!

When you can’t prevent wasted food, divert it from landfills. Nutritious, safe and untouched food can be donated to food banks to help those in need. Compost food scraps rather than throwing them away.

To spread EPA’s message about the importance of preventing food waste, I plan to observe Earth Day this year at the Mississippi Valley State University’s campus in Itta Bena, Miss., close to where I was born and raised in Greenville, where I will share information about EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.

As part of the Food Recovery Challenge, organizations pledge to improve their sustainable food management practices and report their results. Any business or organization can join as a participant or endorser. Learn more at: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-frc

After the program at MVSU, volunteers from the local Boys & Girls Club will gather to plant a community food garden. Gardens are a powerful driver of change in the communities they serve because they provide access to fresh, healthy food along with beautiful places for residents to gather and work toward positive goals.

I encourage you to serve at an Earth Day event in your community and start doing what you can today and every day to reduce food waste. Small steps add up—if we all do our part.

Let’s commit ourselves, our families, and our communities to work toward a brighter environmental future for our state, the Southeast region, the nation and the planet.

What will you do? Let us know at #NoWastedFood this #EarthDay
 
Source: US Environmental Protection Agency, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, April 22, 2016

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