Discover more from Talking Climate with Katharine Hayhoe
Tackling food waste
Cutting food waste, climate effects on grocery shelves, and how you can help
Project Drawdown recently released a new analysis ranking the top 20 high-impact climate actions households can take to cut their carbon footprint by up to 25 percent. Do you know what the number one action is? Reducing food waste!
Every year, a full third of the food produced on this planet is wasted. That amounts to some 1 billion tons. And when it decays, all the food that doesn’t make it to our tables – or does, then gets thrown out – generates about 8 percent of the world’s heat-trapping gases. That’s more than double the impact of all the flights in the world; and it’s lost calories and wasted money, too.
So this week, we’re taking a deep dive into the food system to look at solutions that are making an impact.
Is it possible to eliminate food waste through composting and recycling? South Korea says yes. They’ve virtually eliminated food waste thanks to a compulsory curbside composting program. Throwing food into landfills to decompose has been prohibited in the country since 2005. Citizens receive bags to put their food scraps in, and these scraps are recycled into animal feed, biogas, and fertilizer. Now, the country recycles almost 100 percent of its food scraps: check out these incredible photos of the process!
What about using that food to feed people who would otherwise go hungry? In Geneva, a nonprofit called Free-Go is putting fridges on streets that people can use to share food from their own homes and commercial kitchens that might otherwise go to waste. Passers-by are able to grab whatever they might need out of the fridges, which cost $40,000 per year to operate. ”Generally, when the food collected from shops and restaurants arrives in the morning, people are already waiting to help themselves,” the project’s director said. Last year, when the program only had one fridge, the program gave away some 3.2 tons of food.
In the U.S., for-profit companies like Imperfect Foods and Ugly Food allow consumers to make sure they are buying perfectly good food that would otherwise be thrown out because it doesn’t look quite right. In Canada, non-profits like Food Stash in Vancouver, Rescue Food in the Prairies, and Second Harvest across the country collect and redistribute food free of charge that would otherwise go to a landfill. Many non-profits rely on volunteers. If you’re interested, you could help out!
Climate change is affecting what you can find on the shelves of your local grocery store, too. This year, Peru, historically the world’s largest blueberry exporter, has exported less than half as many blueberries as last year, thanks to abnormally high temperatures during the growing season. Climate change is also cutting into orange juice supply. In Brazil, hot weather combined with citrus greening disease has slashed production by 40%, while in the U.S., hurricanes coupled with a bacterial disease are also decimating orange crops. Tomatoes, too, will have trouble in a warming world. By the middle of the century, tomato yields could drop 18 percent in the traditional Italian tomato-growing region of Foggia. Growing regions will likely need to shift to stave off a crisis in not just tomatoes but many other crops, from wine grapes to corn.
You might be surprised to know that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are reducing the nutritional content of food, too. Plants are growing bigger and faster but with the same amount of nutrients. Per serving, this means the protein and mineral content of many foods is dropping by anywhere between 5 to 15 percent. People who can afford ample food and vitamins won’t be overly affected, but this will exacerbate the malnutrition and lack of nutrients many already experience in low-income countries who’ve done the least to cause the problem. Once again, climate impacts are profoundly unfair.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Reducing food waste is one of the most impactful things you can do in your own life to trim your own carbon footprint, according to Project Drawdown, and share with others to make it contagious.
I’ve changed my own grocery shopping habits to reduce food waste. Instead of taking one big trip to the grocery store every two weeks, a number of years ago I sold the freezer, cleaned out the fridge, and now shop once or twice a week. I buy only what I need for meals over the next couple of days, including more fresh veggies and fish rather than frozen foods. With the fridge half empty, I can see everything I have in there and use what I have on hand before it goes bad.
You can compost your produce scraps, either at your own home or through a composting service like the one we have in the area where I live, called Turn Compost. In the US, Canada, and the EU you can also download an app called Too Good To Go that matches consumers concerned about cost and climate with restaurants that have surplus food to sell.
And if you live in the UK, you can use this website to locate a local “gleaning” group, which connects volunteers with local farmers to help harvest excess fruits and vegetables that would otherwise not be harvested.
Many of these programs are local; so look online for ones that are available in your area; and when you find them, share them with others who live near you!
Sun., Oct. 29th at 4pm CDT - "Blanton Live: Conversations for Now," a panel discussion at the exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, TX - in person
Tues., Nov. 7th at 8pm EST - Third Act Faith's next General Meeting - online