Want to Save the Planet? Eat Your Leftovers.

Tags: food waste

One of my wife’s biggest pet peeves is throwing away food, and in our house, I’m the biggest offender of not eating the leftovers. Unfortunately, in this country I’m the norm, not the exception.

One of my wife’s biggest pet peeves is throwing away food, and in our house, I’m the biggest offender of not eating the leftovers. Unfortunately, in this country I’m the norm, not the exception. According to a 2010 study from the University of Texas, “each day, American households on average throw away at least one and a half pounds of food that, depending on which numbers you look at, represent between a quarter and a half of all the food produced in the U.S.” First, it goes without saying that that’s a lot of food that could feed people who need it. Second, that’s a lot of money being wasted. But after a presentation by Sandra Sassow of SEaB Energy at the DCSEU’s Focus on Green Tech event back in January, it made me realize just how much energy is being wasted.

Consider that package of mixed greens I bought, convincing myself I’d be healthy and make salads to take to work for lunch. Let’s say those were from a farm in California. Energy was used to till the soil and pump the water to grow it, to get the workers to the farm who harvested it, to create the package it went in, to package it, to store it before transport, to transport it to DC, to keep it fresh at the store, and to store it in my refrigerator (I’m sure I even missed a step or two here).

Spoiler alert (pun intended): I didn’t eat it. All the energy that went into producing it, transporting it to me, and storing it was wasted. It ended up in a landfill where it rotted, producing methane gas – wasted energy that also added to the GHG emissions created in the production and transportation process. According to Project Drawdown, “cutting down on food waste could have nearly the same impact on reducing emissions over the next three decades as onshore wind turbines.” Food, and therefore energy, is wasted all along the supply chain, from the farm to the consumer to the landfill. There are opportunities throughout what EPA calls the “Food Recovery Hierarchy” to reduce food waste, with the most preferred waste, and GHG, reduction strategies happening earlier in the production of food. As a consumer, I can do my part to reduce food waste (and the resulting energy wasted and GHG emissions) by buying only what I need and will eat, storing food properly, and composting food that I don’t eat. Don’t want to compost at home? DC offers free composting at select farmers markets.

On a slightly larger scale, the DCSEU is working with food service customers, including a food bank here in DC, to provide incentives and technical assistance for installing more efficient refrigeration fans and controls. This work not only helps reduce energy consumption, but also helps customers monitor temperatures in coolers and freezers and can provide alerts right to a customer’s phone to help avoid food spoilage. The DCSEU also works with restaurants to provide rebates for efficient equipment that can reduce the amount of energy needed to store and cook food. Anaerobic digesters like the ones produced by SEaB can turn waste into energy via methane gas are also an option. This not only produces energy, but if it’s installed on site, you’re avoiding the energy used (and emissions produced) to truck the waste away.

According to that same study done at the University of Texas, “the U.S. could save roughly 2 percent of its total energy consumption in one year if it stopped wasting food.” Clearly, there’s a long way to go to establish policies, practices, technology, and behavior that reduce the amount of food and energy wasted along the way here in the U.S. and around the world, and the resulting GHG emissions. In the meantime, I need to start doing my part: making sure my eyes aren’t bigger than my stomach, and eating those leftovers.

This post was written by Ben Burdick, Manager of Marketing and Communications at the DCSEU.

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Ben Burdick
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