Guest Column: More emphasis should be on America’s waste problem

Doug Walp

Approximately 263 million pounds of food were thrown away in the United States yesterday, despite the fact a majority of it was perfectly good to eat.

Initially, it seems like a grandmother’s proverb – “Clean your plate. Don’t let it go to waste,” – but recent empirical research has shown this rampant wastefulness could be far more damaging than just upsetting your sweet old grandma.

A study from Timothy Jones, an anthropologist from the University of Arizona, claims as much as half of all of the food produced in America each year is discarded due to multiple inefficacies throughout the consumer food hierarchy.

This includes flaws in harvesting, preservation, transportation and distribution, as well as the fact leftovers seem to be an increasingly rare commodity of the modern American household.

It’s not a problem that’s completely localized to our country, but the statistics do implicate our society as one of the world’s worst offenders. Accordingly, an independent study conducted for the International Congress concluded North America wastes more than 10 times the amount of food than Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia do each year.

In fact, every year North America wastes what equates to nearly three-fourths of all the food produced in the aforementioned foreign regions, despite having vastly superior technology available.

These statistics accurately depict the alarming disregard our society has commonly come to accept.

Resources that were once thought to have been precious, such as food or clean water, are habitually taken for granted by the population – myself included.

I want to be clear, I don’t mean to insinuate if we all work together we can take all of our leftovers and cure world hunger. But, more effective strategies within the food industry could at least help to provide meals for the thousands starving here in America as well as positively impact the economy and environment.

Too often we dismiss the notion of hunger as an epidemic that is only centralized in impoverished nations when, in reality, it’s a crisis that exists throughout the U.S.

I’ve witnessed families rummaging through my apartment’s dumpster on occasion, often waiting until dark to either remain undetected or hide their shame.

It’s both heartbreaking and eye-opening to witness a brother and sister slump down in the seats of their old run-down van as their mother and father pillage through what some wasteful college students threw out, just to eat for the night. When just down the road, grocery stores are disposing of unfathomable amounts of fresh food because of unjustifiable “quality-standards,” sometimes locking their trash facilities to keep those unable to put food on the table for their families from dumpster diving.

America’s food waste is also much more than just a social issue.

More efficient conservation policies within the food industry could help save the nation’s economy billions of dollars each year.

For instance, most grocery vendors and wholesalers will throw out an entire carton of eggs if one is broken, or dispose of an entire container of fruit because one apple lost its ripeness.

Coming up with feasible solutions to problems such as this, and similar issues within harvesting and transportation, could literally generate billions of dollars in revenue.

Our environment has also been suffering because of our society’s abhorrent wastefulness.

The EPA reports in 2010, 33 million tons of food waste were sent to landfills and incinerators, making it the single largest component of municipal solid waste in America.

Despite the possible misconceptions that food sitting in a landfill is some kind of environmentally friendly compost heap, it’s been shown this rotting food releases significant amounts of toxic methane into the atmosphere. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas that has 20 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The positive notion to take away from the countless reports and studies being published on the matter is that unlike carbon dioxide levels, it’s hypothesized by many that global food waste levels can be considerably diminished by simply increasing awareness and pursuing logical conservation efforts.

As one of the leading offenders, the U.S. can set an auspicious trend by not only acknowledging food waste is indeed a prevalent issue globally, but that America will pursue immediate real-world solutions to it.

The responsibility begins with us, however, as the consumer, to continually raise our awareness as well as our ability to recognize just how detrimental our wastefulness can be.

The Daily Athenaeum, West Virginia U. via UWIRE.