NO PLANET B: Food waste in America and what you can do about it

This is a column part of a monthly series called “No Planet B” written by Sustainability & Energy Management Coordinator Chelsea Malacara and her sustainability interns. This series aims to provide insight on how we can begin to think and make sustainable choices on campus for a better future. 

Food is not only essential for human survival, but for many it is an important fixture in our culture. We buy, we cook, we eat, and then we waste. After that delicious meal, have you ever thought about where all the uneaten and thrown out food ends up? Have you ever felt bad about throwing food out?

Food waste refers to food that is discarded and goes uneaten. Every year in the United States approximately 63 million tons of food is wasted, taking up 21 percent of landfill volume.

But, why is so much food waste in the first place? Think about all the steps food has to go through to get to your plate. Substantial food waste occurs at every level of the food supply chain. From produce rotting on the vine, to improper refrigeration and storage in transportation,to “ugly” food rotting or going bad at the grocery store. The issues are complex and fixing them often requires large-scale solutions.

In Milwaukee alone, landfills are reaching their maximum capacity and 25% of the landfill contents are made up of organic material like food waste. As organic material breaks down, it releases methane gas which has a higher global warming potenial than carbon dioxide — and our landfills are releasing methane at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, according to Feeding America, 1 in 9 Americans are considered food insecure which means 1 in 9 Americans lack consistent access to nutritious food required to live an active and healthy life.

So what can you do to start reducing food waste in your life? You may not be able to solve the entire food waste issue on your own but as an individual, there are a few places to start.

Smart Shopping

First and foremost, smart shopping is key to reducing the amount of food waste you generate. At the grocery store buy only what you need. To help accomplish this, consider planning your meals and what ingredients you need before going to the store. This will help cut back on impulsive purchases and buying too much.

While you’re at the store, buy the ugly produce! A tremendous amount of our food never endsup on the shelves of our grocery stores and instead are discarded for due to small sizes, blemishes and other imperfections. Give that fruit or vegetable some love!

Leftovers

We are all guilty of over cooking or bringing home food from a restaurant and letting our perfectly good leftovers sit in the fridge until they go bad. Try using your leftover to create a newdish or freeze them for a day when you don’t feel like cooking. And those vegetables that have wilted or scraps from meal prep-pop those in the freezer? Once you have 5 or more cups, make some vegetable broth!

Donation

Did you parents send you a care package with a bunch of non-perishable canned goods you will never eat? Don’t let them expire, instead donate your extra food to pantries in the Milwaukee area or right here at Marquette to the Backpack Program.

Wait! What about food waste that can’t be avoided like bones, vegetable scraps, moldy cheese, fruit rinds or those leftovers you did forget about and are now rotting in the fridge?

For that food waste that can’t be avoided, it’s better to turn them into compost, a soilamendment rich in plant nutrients made by the breakdown of organic material, then sending them to slowly breakdown in a landfill. Here are you options.

Backyard Composting

If you live in a single-family home with a backyard or in an apartment complex with yard space, consider buying a compost bin. There are lots of options for closed system that prevent smells and keep out pests. You can learn more about how to get started from the EPA.

Food Waste Collection

If you can’t set up your own backyard system, no problem! If you live in Milwaukee County, Compost Crusaders collects food waste curbside for a small monthly fee. The food waste is taken to Blue Ribbon Organics in Kenosha where it is turned into compost.

If you live in McCabe or Gilman Apartments, you can also participate in Marquette Sustainability’s new food waste collection pilot program that runs from March 1st until the end of May.

Contact chelsea.malacara@marquette.edu or look out for posters in McCabe to learn more!

This story was written by Farah Issa. She is a sustainability intern for Chelsea Malacara, the Sustainability & Energy Management Coordinator for Marquette University. She is not a staff member for the Wire. She can be reached at farah.issa@marquette.edu