For years I have studied food waste and food conservation, as well as having worked with numerous organizations attempting to start composting enterprises.
Conserving food requires lessening waste and better management in every link of this nutrient chain. From the farm, factory, store and home; the US wastes enough food to feed Canada. Every year, consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food every year, or 31 percent of their overall food supply. In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. 30-40% of the food supply in the USA is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a goal to cut the amount of food that Americans waste by 50 percent by 2030.
Roughly 80 percent of fresh water goes to food production. A recent study by the World Resources Institute (WRI), about one-third of all food produced worldwide, valued at about US $1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. In a world full of hunger, volatile food prices and social unrest, these statistics are environmentally, morally and economically outrageous.
A standard kilogram of food consumed today in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate (www.nw.org). While the average American spends several thousand of dollars on food consumption or roughly 9 percent of our gross national product amounting to almost $900 billion dollars. When we better manage all facets of our food it will lessen hunger, and reduce landfilling. Also conserving food saves energy.
Additional factors impacting food production and waste;
* 70 percent of water goes into irrigation. As water becomes more and more scarce, humans will need to find ways to make the agricultural cycle become more efficient.
* US agricultural practices are estimated to erode 2 billion tons of soil while worldwide 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded.
* American soil erodes at an average of 7.1 tons per acre per year, which is 14 times faster than rates at which soil is created.
* It is estimated that soil erosion and water run-off costs the U.S. $44 billion annually.
* Pesticides which cost US farmers $ 4 billion annually, are estimated to cause $2-4 billion in health and environmental damages including an estimated 20,000 cases of pesticide caused cancer each year.
* Five billion livestock in the United States produce some 41.8 billion tons of manure each year.
* One third of the solid waste stream is food packaging.
* The farm population is less than 2% or at last count 4.6 million people (so low the Census no longer keeps separate records of it).
* A typical family discards 10 -15 percent of their food purchases.
"Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity." Pope Francis