Reducing Food Waste: 'One of the Most Important Things We Can Do to Reverse Global Warming'

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If food waste were a country, it would place third – following the US and China – for impact on global warming.

Each of us is just one tiny cog in the giant organism that is humanity – can our individual actions really make a difference when faced with the enormity of the environmental mess mankind has created?

Some throw up their hands and say "no," others diligently rinse their recycling and are never without their reusable shopping totes. Making eco-minded choices takes a bit of blind faith that, yes, this is going to make a difference.

So here’s something to shore up that faith and deliver some inspiration, a quote from Chad Frischmann in The Washington Post. Frishmann is the vice president and research director at Project Drawdown, a comprehensive non-profit dedicated to finding substantive solutions to global warming. He writes:

Reducing food waste is one of the most important things we can do to reverse global warming.

We talk about reducing food waste a lot on TreeHugger. But we also go on about ditching plastic, eating local foods, driving less, using energy-efficient design, shunning pollutants, et cetera et cetera et cetera. In my mind they all stake equal claim – but for me, food waste has been more about the shamefulness of squandering sustenance when so many people are starving.

But of course, not only are we throwing away calories – we are also wasting the emissions that came about from producing, processing, packaging, shipping, storing, picking up and cooking the food that has ended up in the trash ... which now has to be carted off to the landfill.

The facts behind food waste’s contribution to climate change are both alarming and eye opening. Consider the following, as explained by Frischmann:

• 30 percent of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing 8 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

• If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.

• Cutting down on food waste could have nearly the same impact on reducing emissions over the next three decades as onshore wind turbines.

• More than 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases could be prevented from being released into the atmosphere.

It [reducing food waste] represents one of the greatest possibilities for individuals, companies and communities to contribute to reversing global warming and at the same time feed more people, increase economic benefits and preserve threatened ecosystems.

On a global level, Frischmann makes some great suggestions for tackling the problem, noting that as population, economic development, food consumption and waste continue to grow, we would need to convert more than a billion acres of forests and grassland into farmland over the next three decades to keep up with the pace, leading to the release of some 84 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere. “Additional emissions across the supply chain, from agricultural production to our refrigerators, would also be generated.”

While in low-income countries food waste is rarely happening in the home, in better-off countries, 40 percent of food waste occurs in markets and by consumers – and this simply has to change. People need to shop carefully, embrace ugly produce, understand best-use dates, store food properly, use the freezer, love leftovers, and so forth. (And given the extent of pet ownership, we should be considering our pet's food as well.) By doing so, lowering demand along the supply chain reduces emissions from storage, transportation, packaging, processing and production.

You can check out Project Drawdown’s ranking of 80 climate change solutions here, and you might notice something. Out of the top 20 solutions, eight relate directly to the food system.

“While we need all 80 solutions to be implemented in parallel,” Frischmann writes, “the decisions we all make every day on the food we produce, purchase and consume is perhaps the single most important contribution an individual can make.”