What is Food Waste?
Food that is intended for human consumption, but never actually eaten, is considered food waste. This includes food that is not shipped from farms, food spoiled or lost in transport, food left on store shelves, food unused in home and industrial kitchens, as well as leftovers that are never eaten. It is estimated that 25 to 40 percent of food in the United States, depending upon type of food, goes uneaten and is wasted. This waste has serious effects on our environment, drives up the cost of food for everyone, and is socially irresponsible.
The Benefits of Food Waste Reduction are Clear
Reducing food waste is one of those actions that has clear, immediate and widespread benefit. The goal is to prevent food from entering our waste stream. By doing this, you:
Reduce Methane Emissions - When food is disposed in a landfill it rots and produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas much more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
Decrease Resource Consumption - Food production is water and energy intensive and often involves fertilizers and pesticides. All of these resources are wasted when the food is not consumed.
Create Opportunities for Composting - Food waste can be turned into compost which can be used to improve soil, increase the resistance of plants to drought and disease, reduce watering needs and more.
Improve Sanitation and Safety in Public Venues - Food in trash cans and dumpsters smells bad, attracts bugs and rodents, and can produce run-off that pollutes waterways. Reducing the amount of food that goes into regular garbage, decreases community health risks.
Keep Our City Disposal Costs Low - We pay to dispose of our trash in landfills. Each pound that you divert from the garbage means that we pay less as a community. For businesses, separating food waste may reduce overhead.
Feed Hungry People - This is likely one of the most important benefits of reducing food waste in that diversion while the food is still good to eat can help the people in our community who would otherwise go hungry.
Food waste can also be used to create natural fertilizers, feed animals and also to produce bio-fuel. Some foods, such as fats, oils and greases, can be recycled!
Reducing food waste is a cooperative effort requiring participation from those who produce, transport, sell, cook and consume food. Each person or business in the chain has a significant role to play. Links to specialized information for those in the food service or sales industry is provided at the bottom of this page.
The best way to reduce food waste is to begin at the source. In our community, food is grown in community gardens and back yards. Please monitor your growth and harvest at the appropriate time to reduce waste. If you cannot consume or sell what you harvest, there are local food banks who can put it to good use. If they cannot use your excess produce, please check with barns and farms in our region, as well as with the South Florida Wildlife Center to see if they can utilize your excess fruits and vegetables as animal feed. Finally, please consider setting up a composting bin in your garden to handle any excess, peels, pits, or overripe harvest.
The next way to reduce food waste is to purchase wisely. As with all waste, what we don't have we cannot throw away. So shop wisely. Buy only what you need. Share bulk purchase immediately with friends or charities. Shop from your own pantry and refrigerator first so that you do not buy things you already have. Resist the urge to buy sale items you don't need. When you are out, order wisely from restaurant menus, and pack up leftovers immediately. Tell your server before bread and other "free" items are delivered whether you want them or not. Ask if the restaurant participates in a food bank program or feeds local homeless or allows employees to take home leftovers, and consider "donating" before you dig in.
Learn what those dates on packaging really mean. Look carefully at the words stamped on your food products and take a few moments to learn about them. "Sell by", "Use before" and "Best by" mean different things, and how long your food will last depends upon what it is, whether it has been opened and your method of storage. The USDA publishes Food Product Dating Guidelines to clear up the confusion.
Use up those leftovers! One of the biggest sources of food waste is leftovers. Whether they are the result of an over-ambitious trip to the store, a large meal out, or a great home-cooking experience, if they do not get eaten, they often end up as waste. Tips for reducing this type of waste include: purchasing small to start, immediately freezing uneaten portions, using leftovers the next day,composting, and utilizing your garbage disposal properly, Please never put food waste in your recycling cart, and challenge yourself to keep it our of the garbage as well.
Thirty-three agencies focused on food production, transport and safe consumption comprise the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The agency offers a variety of helpful resources to reduce your food waste, improve nutrition and save money. They are partnering with the EPA to challenge American citizens, businesses and schools to reduce food waste at every stage between farm and fork. On their Food Waste website, you will find helpful tips for consumers, businesses and schools, webinars, information about the U.S. Food Waste Challenge and more.
The Environmental Protection Agency both partners with the USDA and works independently to address the issues of food waste and recovery. As part of their resource conservation initiatives, they offer extensive information on how to reduce food waste throughout the life cycle of a product. Visit their Reducing Wasted Food Basics for helpful information on food waste in the home. Visit their Food Recovery website to learn about diverting food from landfills, dealing with food waste in restaurants and markets, and even creating energy from food that cannot be eaten. You can also get involved in their Food Recovery Challenge, and sign up for specialized webinars.
The Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA) is a joint initiative of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (representing food and beverage companies), the Food Marketing Institute (representing food retailers), and the National Restaurant Association (representing the foodservice industry). The FWRA has three goals: reduce the amount of food waste generated, increase the amount of safe, nutritious food donated to those in need, and recycle unavoidable food waste, diverting it from landfills. Their website offers information for consumers and those in the industry.
The United Nations Think Eat Save: Reduce Your Foodprint program "aims to accelerate action and provide a global vision and information-sharing portal for the many and diverse initiatives currently underway around the world." Their website provides helpful advice for consumers and retailers, allows you to make food waste pledge and provides a platform for exchanging ideas throughout the world.
Information for those in the Food Sales and Service Industry
You have a major role to play in reducing food waste because your involvement begins long before food is sold or served. Reducing waste has specific environmental benefits, but also can have financial benefits for your business. Labor costs can be lowered, disposal fees goes down, and you can even get tax benefits from being involved with food donation programs. You can get a good overall picture of industry impact by reviewing these infographics published by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance. Here are links to specialized information of interest to grocery stores, markets, restaurants and food service providers in education.
From the U.S. EPA - Information on managing within food labeling guidelines, teaming up with a food bank, finding a composter and training employees to reduce waste.
Food Waste Reduction and Prevention, U.S. EPA
From the U.S. EPA - Specialized information valuable to food service managers, as well as campus success stories and even a food waste calculator.
Local Food Banks
Our Solid Waste Coordinator is developing a list of registered food banks accepting donations from the public and benefiting Fort Lauderdale's neighbors. If you manage an agency that accepts donations year-round, please contact our coordinator at (954) 828-5054. Please be prepared to provide copies of agency documentation, contact information and drop-off guidelines.