I have encountered various statistical sources who have claimed that between thirty and forty percent of food produced annually across the country is lost or wasted. This is undoubtedly enough to feed the millions of people who experience food insecurity and go to bed each night with an empty stomach. Not only is this phenomenal waste a concern for the hungry, the problem is compounded by the fact that our food waste occupies an outrageous amount of space in landfills and the methane produced by its decomposition has been said to be considerably worse, in terms of its effect on climate change, than an equal amount of carbon dioxide.
To begin the necessary transition to a zero-waste society we must begin by considering the amount of waste generated to begin with. Where does all of this food come from, and why is it wasted? In some instances it is due to industrial issues such as improper refrigeration or lack of storage space. But the goal of this post is to pinpoint consumer issues, things that you and I can change in our daily routines that can make a profound impact.
Educating ourselves, as well as others, is the first step towards zero-waste. We can begin by addressing the most preventable form of waste, excess food. Trying to set up a meal plan regimen can help you and your family limit the amount of food purchased each week, and therefore restrict the amount of possible waste brought into your home. If you go out to eat, order sensibly, and take home any leftovers instead of discarding them. If you don’t have the space to store leftovers, give them to a friend or contact an organization like WasteNotWantNot of Buffalo, who collect food from around the city and hold free food-shares for the homeless and hungry. Composting is another great way to deal with excess food around the home. You can easily build a compost bin for your backyard which, with the proper care, will provide you with an amendment you can add to your garden to replenish the nutrients in the soil.
An ideal example of a zero-waste lifestyle can be found in Lauren Singer, a NYC resident who has lived so sustainably for the past four years that the amount of garbage she has produced in that time can fit into a single 16 oz mason jar! I will link to her blog at the bottom of my post, and I encourage you to watch some of her videos for more information about how she has accomplished such an incredible feat. The packaging that our food comes in, which is often times plastic (and therefore not biodegradable) is largely unnecessary, as Singer made apparent in her lifestyle change. We all must ask ourselves a question of what we find more important, the convenience of a plastic bag or the future of our planet?
A great investment for both your wallet and the environment is to purchase reusable containers for your food and beverages. Forget plastics, which may contain harmful chemicals and look into sustainable containers made of stainless steel, glass, or wood. Organic cotton napkins can be used in place of harmful and wasteful plastic bags to store food in the fridge, or to bring with you for lunch. Drawing from Singer’s example, we can find countless methods of purchasing food and other home necessities in bulk and storing them in reusable containers. For more information on how to do so, see the link to Singer’s blog below.
As the semester goes on I will be writing more about zero-waste efforts across our campus and throughout the country, so please stay tuned and email me with any ideas you may have. Until then, please check out the links below!
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In-Progress)
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club
http://www.trashisfortossers.com/ (Lauren Singer)