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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Waste Not Want Not

What if I told you that you are throwing approximately $400.00 per person in your home in the garbage and you may not even realize. The truth is that Americans as a whole throw away more food than any other country. Roughly fifty percent of all produce in the US finds its way into our landfills. Estimates from 2016 are sixty million tons of produce that is an estimated $160 Billion. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the single biggest fraction of waste in our landfills is wasted food.

People in the US are terrible about wasting food. Americans throw approximately one third of food purchased away. Either through purchasing food and never preparing it or by never eating leftover food.

Food waste is not just a problem of the consumer it is all the way down the line. Food is relatively inexpensive in the US and Americans are particular about what their food looks like. We live in a culture of Instagram food and perfectly shaped fruits and vegetables. As a whole we do not buy misshaped, oddly shaped, brown, bruised, or slightly damaged produce. This ends up leading to grocers throwing away a large amount of produce without even putting it out for purchased.

According to an interview with producers done for an article published by The Guardian producers know that some produce will not even be sold based on how it looks so large amounts of produce doesn't even make it out of the fields. Produces are leaving ugly or misshaped produce in the fields, composting it, hauling it directly to landfills, or feeding it to livestock.

As consumers, we have the power to make changes and reduce the waste of food. First, we can make a conscious effort to eat the prepared food in our homes. If we make this effort to eat all that we buy, we can make a significant impact on the food that ends up in our landfills. We can also make an effort to do smaller shopping trips only purchasing what is needed for a couple of days rather than a week or multiple weeks. Second, if we as consumers were to make a choice to purchase produce not based on its appearance we could drive the market to include all produce not just the "pretty" produce. Many grocers have started selling "ugly" fruit at a reduced price and this is a great first step to show grocers that there is a market for all produce. Finally, we can work with our communities and governments to push for the inclusion of compostable waste collection. If we were to include this in our local trash collection it will reduce our waste landfill waste and will also provide a good source of nutrients that would be available without using fertilizers.

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