Since the start of our series, we have adventured upstream in the fresh food supply chain to demystify the connection between food waste and climate change. While each supply chain node has held the spotlight, when we bring it all together, it is undeniable that the kitchen is where we can each make the biggest difference to mitigate climate change.
Take the fresh fruits and vegetables sitting on your counter or in your fridge. Perhaps your luscious lettuce sprouted on land recently cleared of its natural habitat, releasing carbon emissions in the process. Manufacturing the pesticides and transporting the water that your crunchy grapes needed to grow generated greenhouse gas emissions too. And further emissions resulted from the fossil fuels used to air freight your lanky asparagus from afar in a refrigerated plane. From your sweet strawberries to your tear-jerking onions, growing, processing, and transporting the food you eat generates greenhouse gas emissions before it lands on your plate. And if those shriveled strawberries or rotten onions get thrown away, all those emissions were for naught.
Food waste in the kitchen drives the overproduction of food. When we have to buy more food to replace what we throw out, we generate avoidable emissions from the resources used to grow, process, and distribute that food. For example, when you go to the store to buy ingredients for your legendary guac, you might buy 5 avocados even if you only need 4. One of them might go to waste, and you can’t be without guac when there are guests involved. This need to buy more due to waste drives production all the way back to the farm. As we have seen from this series, generating emissions at each stage of the supply chain creates a glut of greenhouse gas emissions from growing unnecessary food.
When we consider that ⅓ of all food produced for consumption is lost or wasted, it’s easy to see how 8% of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions result from food loss and waste (FAO). Moreover, as more greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere every year, global temperatures continue to rise, driving climatic changes such as more frequent heatwaves and more intense precipitation events (IPCC).
You might be thinking, "if food waste is such a large contributor to climate change, why is this not at the forefront of everyone’s mind?" It might be because food waste is an invisible problem. Your trash can is a magician; when your moldy lemons or wilted cilantro disappear into its depths, you never have to see the rotten food again, let alone confront its impacts on climate change. This separation from the impacts is even harder at the grocery store, where whisking away food waste from the shelf before most shoppers can notice is commonplace.
When we forget to turn off the faucet or leave the car running we can more clearly link our actions to environmental consequences. But the day-to-day decisions that help us prevent food waste from happening in our homes can be less noticeable. And while we might pay attention to the barrels we put out on the street for collection each week, we are so far removed from the majority of the environmental impacts that occurred upstream in the fresh food supply chain.
We all need to eat, and we’re a long way off from a zero-emissions food system, but when we unwaste we ensure those emissions aren’t for naught. In fact, food waste has been identified as one of the top ways to fight climate change (Project Drawdown). So your kitchen is an opportunity to have noteworthy environmental triumphs, like morphing your mushy apples into applesauce or dehydrating your surplus cherry tomatoes.
There are many ways to unwaste and we have plenty of ideas. Our next blog will dive into some of the best ways to unwaste and guide you to having a climate-conscious kitchen. Until next time!
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