Earth Day was started in 1970 by US Senator Gaylord Nelson. Celebrated on April 22nd, Earth Day reminds us that we share responsibility for the health (salute) of our beautiful planet (pianeta).
There are a few thoughts I have been meaning to share with you for some time and Earth Day (or thereabouts) sounds like the appropriate time. In recent years, I have become particularly interested in food waste (spreco alimentare) and food scrap recycling.
Food waste includes uneaten food and food preparation scraps from residences or households, commercial establishments like restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias and industrial sources. (source: Environmental Protection Agency)
The amount of food that goes to waste in the US every year is staggering:
The US generates more than 34 million tons of food waste each year. Paper is the only material category where we generate more waste, but we also recycle more. Food waste is more than 14 percent of the total municipal solid waste [MSW] stream. Less than three percent of the 34 million tons of food waste generated in 2009 was recovered and recycled. The rest —33 million tons— was thrown away. Food waste now represents the single largest component of MSW reaching landfills and incinerators. (source: EPA)
Not only does this wasted valuable resource have huge economic impacts, it also has huge and immediate environmental impacts. When food is disposed in a landfill it quickly rots and becomes a significant source of methane — a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the United States, accounting for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions. (source: EPA)
After having stated the problem, let's talk about ways to address it. Another page on the EPA's website shows the food waste recovery hierarchy and yet another one suggests ways for households to address the food waste problem. I really like the subtitle of this last page: Think – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (compost). Thinking about what we are doing allows us to become aware of where waste occurs. Then, we can implement measures aimed at minimizing waste.
For example, food waste can occur when we purchase more food than we consume, in particular perishable items like fresh vegetables. We can do a lot to help our planet by paying special attention to our shopping cart or basket and to all the drawers of our fridge plus those nooks and crannies where food has a tendency to hide and condemn itself to oblivion. Precious resources went into the production of that food: when we throw it, those resources become wasted. The way to minimize the environmental impact of food that, for various reasons, must be discarded is recycling, i.e., composting.
If you are interested in learning more, I have written two articles on the subject of food waste and of food scrap recycling: one is here (on page 45) and one is here (pdf). Wasted Food is a blog totally dedicated to this important topic. This recent post provides cogent reasons for why food waste matters.
Unavoidable food waste can be turned not only into natural fertilizer (compost), but also into energy: this happens in facilities called anaerobic digesters, one of which is in Oakland, CA.
One more thing: take a look at the site Love Food Hate Waste.
Per i lettori italiani
- Questo libro è stato appena pubblicato: Il libro nero dello spreco in Italia: il cibo.
- Se non conoscete Last Minute Market, vi raccomando di dare un'occhiata al loro sito web.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the ogni giorno è Earth Day audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]