Learning from leftovers: How wasted food affects climate change

“Finish your potatoes!  There are starving children in Somalia!” . . . “Don’t throw that out!  Do you know how hard I work to put food on this table?” . . .  “If you let that go to waste, you’re contributing to global warming!”

Global warming?  Yes, it looks as though  parents have one more phrase to add to their arsenal of  nit-pickings to make their kids feel just a little bit guilty about leaving that last vegetable on the plate.  Turns out that letting last night’s meatloaf languish in the refrigerator may be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.  As Americans, we waste a staggering 55 million tons of food annually, which is roughly 40 percent of our total supply.  Using software developed by CleanMetrics, an analytical firm out of Oregon, the USDA discovered that food waste is responsible for 135 million tons of atmospheric CO2 each year, about 1.5 percent of total output.  That comes to about 440 pounds of discarded food per individual each year, not counting meals eaten in restaurants or taking into consideration the energy and emissions produced in cooking.

The type food you waste may also have an impact on the climate.  For example, meats and dairy are more energy intensive and expensive to process, transport and raise.  Depending on where you live, your salad may have had to travel several hundred miles to reach the grocery store, meaning more fossil fuels burned and time spent in refrigeration.  According to CleanMetrics, nearly 80 percent of all emissions are created during transportation and processing, with additional greenhouse gas being released through decomposition in landfills.

What to do to keep the planet cool and mom and dad from nagging?  Leftover plants and grains can be composted in order to let carbon return to the soil and become sequestered in the ground.  Buying local groceries will help to cut down on the amount of highway your food needs to cover before becoming dinner.  Eating lower down on the food chain can also reduce the amount of energy needed to create, sustain and process your meal.  Most importantly, shop prudently and purchase only what you can reasonably eat within a given expiration date.  Not only will you save a little bit of cash, but possibly make a dent in the fight against global warming!

 

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