There is more bacteria on Earth than stars in the universe. With an estimated population of five million trillion trillion bacteria on this little rock we call home — that’s a five with thirty zeroes behind it — it’s almost an unimaginably large number.
Contained within each bacterium is the genetic information that the bacteria needs to produce a new, replicated bacterium, which allows bacteria to multiply exponentially. Bacterium can double within 20 to 30 minutes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning that one bacterium turns into two, then two become four. This eventually leads to the formation of millions of cells in a few hours.
While bacteria may be bad when it gets into the food we eat, it has strong sustainability potential when we put it into the food we waste. Under the right environmental conditions, bacteria will automatically grow, feasting on food waste.
Food waste has become an epidemic in the United States, with nearly 40 percent of all the food we grow going uneaten. When this waste is sent to landfills, the rotting food releases methane — a greenhouse gas more potent even than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, the enormous energy demands for growing food that is wasted, as well as the emissions tied to the transport of this waste, contributes as much to climate change as entire countries.
Luckily, bacteria can help reduce this waste in an eco-friendly way, through two primary processes: anaerobic and aerobic digestion. And it might just be one of the best tools in our toolbox for cutting down food waste in a way that turns waste into valuable resources. Continue reading “How the power of microbes can cut food waste”
In our everyday lives, most of us don’t think much about waste — once out of sight, it’s out of mind. But whether it’s individual households, small businesses and major food manufacturers or even municipalities, there are many direct and indirect costs associated with what we throw out that hurt the planet just as much as our pocketbooks.
It might surprise you to learn that we waste so much food globally that it would take farmland the size of Mexico just to grow the amount of food that humans produce, but do not eat every year, according to the World Resources Institute. The Waste Resources and Action Program (WRAP) has calculated that uneaten food costs the world up to $400 billion annually, providing a huge financial incentive for business to act on cutting down on this waste.
Just over a year ago, the world came together at COP21 in Paris to forge a landmark climate change agreement to take collective action to halt climate change. The resulting Paris Agreement pledged to cut global greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — the threshold scientists say we mustn’t breach if we hope to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. In September, the United States and China finally committed to the climate deal, which was reaffirmed by the global community at COP22 in Marrakesh.
But while much of the focus has been on how we will transition to a low-carbon economy through renewable energy, energy efficiency and even fighting deforestation, one of the largest drivers of climate change has largely been ignored by the headlines: global food waste. With around 1.3 billion tons of food being wasted each year, according to the the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this spews 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And it’s worth worth nearly $1 trillion at retail prices.