Op-Ed: Reducing food waste — An environmental problem that begins at home
Have you ever taken a good look inside your fridge? When was the last time you cleaned it? Do you remember throwing away a lot of food?
The average household in Puerto Rico generates 5.5 lbs. of garbage per day, which ends in one of the 29 landfills or sanitary landfill systems existing on the island.
Of the waste that our landfills receive, 14 percent belongs to food and organic matter, but this figure may be higher during the festive season, such as the one that is approaching.
In the United States, more than 36 million tons of food waste are generated, which, as in Puerto Rico, represents 14 percent of the total generation of garbage. Only three percent (one million tons) was recovered to be reused or recycled. The remaining 33 million were sent to the landfill.
Reducing food waste has environmental, social and economic benefits. It is estimated that one in six people (50 million) in the United States lacks a safe source of food and in Puerto Rico it is estimated that the Food Bank provides annual assistance to 110,000 people, who do not have the resources to feed themselves.
In the United States, wasted food and food waste totals $161.6 billion. The production of this food that was discarded, in turn, required millions of barrels of fuel and cubic meters of water, which results in greater use of natural resources. The cost of wasting food is a high price to pay.
As if that were not enough, the decomposition of food and organic matter in the landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane has been linked to climate change and landfill gas emissions contribute 25 percent to total methane emissions in the United States and its territories.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that together they would seek to reduce the loss and waste of food in the United States by 50 percent by the year 2030.
Directed by USDA and the EPA, the federal government works with communities, nongovernmental organizations and businesses along with state and local governments to reduce food waste and waste by 50 percent over the next 12 years.
There are already many jurisdictions taking action and developing innovative programs where food is recovered and rescues and distributed to those who need it. Likewise, the production of compost with food waste is promoted, it is used to feed farm animals, oil and food are used in the production of energy through anaerobic biodigesters, while promoting green industries and jobs.
EPA’s voluntary program
Prior to the 2030 goal, the EPA had already launched the Food Recovery Challenge as part of its waste reduction initiative, Waste Wise. The program is voluntary, free of charge and eligible government agencies, food processors, restaurants, businesses, universities, schools, facilities with food concessionaires, etc.
When enrolling in the program, the interested parties are required to carry out a food and waste audit within the first 90 days; select and implement three activities that are targeted to source reduction specifically; create a food recovery plan and inform the agency of progress using the ReTRAC tool of the WasteWise Program.
The activities to be implemented must include reduction in the source and donation and reuse. A third activity can be carried out from any of the other categories, including composting. Those institutions and facilities interested in participating will receive technical assistance from the EPA. To register you can access www.epa.gov/smm and search for Food Recovery Challenge. If you want more information you can write to the email email@example.com.
15 tips to avoid generating food waste
- Take an inventory of your fridge before buying at the supermarket.
- Buy only what you need.
- Plan a weekly menu.
- Make a list before going to the supermarket and include the ingredients that your recipes require.
- Use everything you bought.
- Check the cold/heat controls and the refrigerator drawers. The right temperature can make fruits and vegetables last longer.
- If you are not going to use it immediately, put it in the freezer.
- When you arrive from the supermarket, wash, chop and put food in individual containers. That will make the preparation of the meal easier.
- Designate a day of the week to cook and freeze.
- Designate an area or shelf in the fridge for the food that was left over. This way you can identify it quickly.
- Do not let the food that has been left over accumulate. Consume the first one that was left over.
- If there was any food left, reheat or take it to the office.
- Talk with your partner and/or children about the matter so that they are part of a household where food waste is handled properly.
- You can start making your own homemade compost with coffee residues, fruit peels, vegetables and root vegetables. Your plants will thank you.
- If you have a party or activity in your home, especially during the holiday season, calculate the food portions.