Earth Day reminds us why it’s time to get smarter about food waste

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In 1970, the first Earth Day helped launch the modern environmental movement. Started as a grassroots effort, Earth Day generated public support for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and contributed to the passage of some of the hallmark environmental laws — including the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act and several others. Since then, it has grown into an annual event to celebrate our planet’s environment and build awareness of its greatest challenges. The day, marked on April 22, is observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects.

Here at Nourished Planet, every day is Earth Day, as we constantly strive to drive change wherever food and beverage waste occurs. This Earth Day will be particularly important for our planet, given the current uncertainty of environmental action in the United States. That’s why we will see a slew of marches across the country and in our nation’s capital, including the March for Science, where scientists, businesses, and the general public will come together to reaffirm support for the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and governments.

Earth Day is a reminder that there is no Planet B, and we must nourish the planet we have so that we all can prosper in perpetuity. As such, it’s more important than ever for businesses to come together to lend their collective voices to drive home the point that economic prosperity and environmental sustainability can and must go hand-in-hand.

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An unbreakable business case for food waste reduction

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.

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The extraordinary history of waste

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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.

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The power of women to fight food waste

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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.

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4 Top Food Firms Innovating in Food Waste

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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:

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Why cities matter in the food waste fight

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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.

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5 reasons to love microbes this Valentine’s Day

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?

Here are 5 reasons to love microbes:

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What to expect in food waste and sustainability in 2017

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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.

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5 things you can do to cut your food waste footprint in 2017

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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:

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It’s time to make America green again

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”