From Plate to Planet: How Food Waste Fuels Climate Change

Food that ends up in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. There are solutions to reduce food waste, as a way to mitigate the climate crisis

By Carlos Roa

In a world grappling with climate change, one often-overlooked contributor to the crisis is food waste. Every year, a staggering amount of food ends up in landfills, emitting greenhouse gases and exacerbating the global climate crisis.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. The organization also states that in the United States alone, wasted food generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Feeding America adds that “every 365 days, 119 billion pounds of food is wasted in the country. That equates to 130 billion meals and more than $408 billion in food thrown away each year. Shockingly, nearly 40% of all food in America is wasted.”

When food items, from fruits and vegetables to meat and dairy, end up in landfills, they undergo anaerobic decomposition due to the lack of oxygen. This process produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is significantly more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2).

The issue of food waste is not confined to any one region: it’s a global problem with wide-reaching consequences.

In developing countries, food loss often happens at the production and transportation stages due to inadequate infrastructure, while in developed nations, consumer waste plays a more significant role.

Regardless of where it occurs, the environmental impact is severe, boosting climate change and intensifying resource scarcity.

Tips To Reduce Food Waste

  • Plan Your Meals: Create a weekly meal plan and a shopping list, to ensure you only buy what you need.
  • Proper Storage: Store perishable items, like fruits and vegetables, in the right conditions to ensure their freshness.
  • First In, First Out (FIFO): Organize your refrigerator and pantry so that the items that were placed in first are used before the more recent ones.
  • Portion Control: Serve reasonable portions to avoid leftovers that may go to waste.
  • Use Leftovers Creatively: Get creative with leftovers by turning them into new dishes or freezing them for later use.
  • Understand Expiry Dates: Learn the difference between “use by” and “best before” dates to reduce unnecessary disposal of still-edible items.
  • Composting: If you cannot avoid food waste, consider composting it to reduce methane emissions in landfills.

Addressing food waste is not only a matter of reducing economic losses but also mitigating the climate crisis. The connection between food waste and greenhouse gas emissions is undeniable, and we all have a role to play in curbing this issue.

By adopting mindful practices at home and supporting efforts to reduce food waste along the entire supply chain, we can make a significant contribution to both our wallets and the planet’s health.

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