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Week 2: Waste Less Food

This week, Wendy Pabich is challenging us to waste less food. Comment on her blog to enter the Taking on Water Challenge!

It takes tremendous volumes of water to produce our food. In fact, in the U.S., agriculture accounts for some 80 percent of our country’s consumptive water use. This means that when we waste food, we waste water. A recent study in the U.K. calculated that embedded water in food waste within the country accounted for one and a half times the volume of water people actually used in their homes.

Estimates of U.S. food waste range from 14 to 50 percent of all food produced for domestic sale and consumption. Much of this food is tossed in the garbage because it is past its sell-by date (which is often mistakenly believed to represent the date food should be eaten by), not as fresh as it once was, or because consumers purchased more food than they could eat and allowed food to spoil.

The implications of our carelessness are rather stunning: these foods end up in landfills, where they produce untold amounts of potent methane, a gas twenty-three times more effective in trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. (Indeed, landfills account for 34 percent of our total methane emissions.) Wasted food also means wasted money, with the average family of four losing $590 each year to food waste. We are also unnecessarily depleting soils and using tons of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides for foods that are never eaten. It is estimated that fully one-quarter of U.S. water consumption is used to produce this wasted food.

Finally, as estimated in a study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the energy required to produce this discarded food is on the order of three hundred million barrels of oil a year. As reported in New Scientist magazine, this is (now hold onto your hat!) more than is extracted annually from the oil and gas reserves off our shores.

You can change this by making a shopping list, buying only what you need, using up what’s in the fridge and the pantry (with lots of creative recipes available to use up wilting vegetables), and serving smaller amounts. For food that does go to waste, compost it to return nutrients and energy to the soil rather than sending it to the landfill, where it will decompose to methane and carbon dioxide, further contributing to global change.

By not wasting food this week, you can reduce your water footprint by about 667 gallons. By continuing this practice, you can save nearly 35,000 gallons of water in a year.

Follow these links for more discussion about:

The Implications of Food Waste

The Water Footprint of Food Waste in the U.K.

Ideas for Using Up Foods on the Edge:

9 Foods You Can Bring Back from the Dead

Recipes for Leftovers

See introductory information on the Taking on Water Challenge: Reduce your Water Footprint here and the Week 1 Challenge: Eat Less Meat here. To enter to win the Taking on Water Challenge, pledge to decrease your water footprint by leaving a comment on Wendy’s blog.

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