Similar to how we kicked off the first post of this series, let’s start at home, right in your kitchen. Despite your best efforts, life happens, and some of those bananas on your counter are now mushy and those mushrooms in your fridge have questionable spots. So, you relocate them from your kitchen to your trash, never to be seen again. While it might not be your fridge’s problem anymore, it's becoming the planet’s problem.
Food has become the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills in the US (EPA). And when food lounges in the landfill, it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas that sets the pace for near-term global warming (EDF).
Many of you, like us, aren’t fans of food waste rotting in a landfill. And you recognize that what you consciously do with your food waste matters towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So, instead of feeding the landfill, you feed the worms, or your animals, or your community collects it to create energy through anaerobic digestion. And these efforts make a difference in reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere (Zschokke et. al. 2012) - phew!
But, how impactful are these “end of life” choices at curbing the climate impacts of food waste? Are landfill emissions the largest source of food waste emissions? Surprisingly, the majority of food waste’s impact on climate change isn’t after its trashed, but instead, in its resource-intensive earlier life (FAO).
When we find an alternative use for food waste, we’re moving it up the food waste hierarchy, but the food still isn’t used for its primary purpose of human consumption. And, while we should continue to divert food from landfills, we need to recognize that the greater environmental impacts occur earlier in the food’s life cycle. As we will see in this blog series, when we waste food, every resource it takes for the food to arrive in our fridge is wasted too.
Before food lands in our kitchen, it goes through an eventful journey. In most cases for fresh fruits and vegetables, the produce was at least grown, harvested, transported, packaged, and transported (again), all before being purchased by you. And at each of these stages, inputs, like water and energy were needed. So when our food is not consumed, we waste all these inputs too.
Now, there is A LOT to unpack here. Don’t worry, we will be your food supply chain tour guide accompanying you through the secret life of your food. In the next set of blog posts, we will take deeper dives into each stage of the upstream food supply chain, discovering all the resources needed to get food to our homes. Let’s start by working backwards and turn our attention to the storage, handling, and distribution of our food to see how it ends up on retail shelves. Until next time!
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