Waste Not Want Not - U of I Extension

News Release

Waste Not Want Not

This article was originally published on May 14, 2018 and expired on May 21, 2018. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

What if I told you that you are throwing approximately $400.00 of “food waste” away per person in your home and you may not even realize it.  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 reported that sixty million tons of produce was wasted at approximately $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 by 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 purchase. 

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 won’t even make it out of the fields.  Producers 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 would reduce our landfill waste and will also provide a good source of nutrients that would be available without using fertilizers.

If you have any questions about food waste, composting, or natural resources please contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu).

Source: Jason Haupt, Extension Educator, Energy and Environmental Stewardship, jdhaupt@illinois.edu

Pull date: May 21, 2018