Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Investing just a single dollar in food waste reduction techniques generates around $14 dollars in return, according to a report released last month by the World Resource Institute. Restaurants typically experience the highest returns, with hotels, food service companies and food retailers tending to have ratios between 5:1 and 10:1.
In the corporate sphere, WRI looked at food waste reduction efforts at nearly 1,200 business sites across 17 countries and more than 700 companies, including food manufacturing, food retail, hospitality, restaurants and other food service. They found that 99 percent of the sites earned a positive return on investment. The median benefit-cost ratio — where half of the sites achieved a higher ratio while half achieved a lower ratio — was 14:1. In other words, half of the business sites earned greater than a 14-fold financial return on investment.
The report also explores how food waste reduction efforts play out at the city level. Recognizing the important role cities play in cutting food waste, it uncovered some financial impacts of food waste efforts.
Reducing food loss and waste can generate a “triple win” by saving money for farmers, companies and households. It also can help feed more people while alleviating pressure on water, land and climate. But despite this clear economic benefit, nearly 40 percent of the food we grow in the United States goes to waste, costing as much as $161 billion each year. Manufacturers are major generators of this food waste, creating more than 7 billion pounds each year. This level of inefficiency in the food system has huge economic, social and environmental consequences.
Waste does not exist in nature — all materials are part of a cycle of use and reuse. When a plant or animal expires, every part of it goes back to nourish something else. In short, there is no such thing as a worthless material in nature — there is no such thing as waste.
The concept of waste is something created by humans to describe the items we create but no longer need and discard. Merriam-Webster defines waste as “refuse from places of human or animal habitation.” The World Book Dictionary defines waste as “useless or worthless material; stuff to be thrown away.”
While it’s safe to say that waste has existed as long as humans have, it’s impossible to pinpoint when the first piece of litter hit the ground. But throughout history we can look back at how waste was generated and handled across cultures and societies all the way up to the present.
Today is International Women’s Day, a day which commemorates the movement for women’s rights. On the heels of the historic Women’s March in January, this year’s commemoration of women’s equality is more resonant than ever.
At first glance, food waste and women’s rights might not seem like natural bedfellows. But across the world, women play a key role in the food production cycle. They are primarily responsible for food production and for feeding their families.
In the global South, where one-third of all food is wasted before it leaves the farm, and in the global North where one third of food is wasted at the retail and consumer levels, women’s roles on the farm, in the factory and at home — including their empowerment — access to resources, and knowledge matters a lot. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, women farmers are responsible for a majority of the production, processing and storage of food. This means that engaging women on food waste reduction could go a long way.
While food waste often is viewed as a social and environmental problem, it’s also an economic one. Each year, uneaten food costs the world up to $400 billion annually. More than half of this comes from the United States — which spends more than $218 billion growing, processing, transporting and disposing food that’s never eaten. That’s a full 1.3 percent of total GDP.
Given the high economic stakes, it makes sense that food companies around the world are looking for innovative ways to cut down on food waste. There is $1.9 billion of annual business profit potential from the revenue and cost savings of implementing various recycling and food waste prevention strategies, research shows.
Many forward-thinking food firms already are acting on this by investing in food waste solutions. Here are some notable ones:
Our cities are facing a growing waste problem. As more and more people leave rural areas for the economic opportunities cities offer, the world increasingly is becoming more urban. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban environments, and this is expected to rise to 60 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, the amount of waste generated by cities is mounting alongside population growth. By 2100, the global urban population will be producing three times as much waste as it does today, according to the World Bank. This could create serious physical and fiscal consequences for cities around the world.
While it’s easy to picture these mountains of waste being built of plastic and paper, the most prevalent form of waste is food. In the United States, people throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal and glass.
And this has major impacts on the climate and society. Food loss and waste annually contribute 3.3 gigagrams of carbon dioxide equivalent — or over twice the total emissions of India. If only a quarter of this lost or wasted food across the world was recovered, it could feed as many as 750 million people, according to the United Nations — a shocking stat when presented in the context of global food insecurity and hunger.
Addressing food waste in cities also could help businesses become more competitive, says The World Bank. With more conscientious management and better logistics systems for food and food waste in supermarkets and restaurants, cities will have businesses with modern operations that are able to engage in corporate social responsibility in a way they have been unable to do before.
Roses may be red, and violets blue, but microbes also do a lot for me and you. While the word ‘microbe’ sounds scary to many — we often associate them with sickness and disease (i.e. flu, ebola, flesh-eating disease) — these tiny lifeforms actually provide myriad benefits to the health of people and the planet. There are more microbes on Earth than stars in the universe. Bacteria, one of the most common types of microbe, have an estimated population of five million trillion trillion — that’s a five with thirty zeroes behind it — it’s almost an unimaginably large number. With that many, they can’t all be bad, right?
Looking back, 2016 was a year marked by unprecedented social, political and environmental happenings. And change in the political winds in Washington created new barriers for those engaged in environmental sustainability. Meanwhile, climate change continued to rear its ugly head — 2016 was the hottest year on record, according to NASA.
As we move into 2017, we wanted to take a look ahead at what already is shaping up to be a wildly unique year. While things aren’t looking so good for the environmental movement politically at the national level, we see some developments at the international and subnational levels, which give us reason to hope. Meanwhile, businesses and consumers increasingly are recognizing the dual challenge and opportunity waste poses.
The New Year has arrived, and with it another opportunity for reinvention. While many people are concerned with eating healthier and exercising more, here at Nourished Planet we challenge you to try to cut something that will improve the planet’s health: cutting food waste.
Americans throw away around $165 billion worth of food each year, and for the average American family, that can be up to $2,200 per household, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). All of this adds up to 35 million tons of food each year, says the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s 50 percent more than in 1990 and three times more than what Americans threw away in 1960. Considering that 1 in 7 Americans go to bed hungry each night, according to Feeding America, that’s an unfortunate statistic.
Reducing food waste also has significant positive environmental impacts. The less food that ends up in landfills means fewer greenhouse gases being dispersed into the air from rotting waste.
So you want to reduce your food waste footprint but don’t know how? Fear not — here are 5 simple steps you can take right now to do just that:
We live in peculiar times. While markets are booming and unemployment in the United States now is at it’s lowest in nearly a decade, economic inequality is worse than ever. More than half of Americans are just a $500 unexpected expense away from financial ruin. And the world’s richest eight people have as much wealth as the bottom half of the global population. Meanwhile, pressing environmental challenges, punctuated by climate change, are threatening communities across the nation.
While there has been plenty of talk about “making America great again,” this misses the point. The world always is moving forward, and there’s no going backward. If we want to ensure America’s greatness, then we need to “make it green again.” Continue reading “It’s time to make America green again”
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”