Many of the foods we eat every day — energy bars, canned goods, deli meats and more — were invented not for civilians but for our men and women in uniform. Many food innovations resulted from efforts to make soldiers’ rations taste good and last longer. But just as the U.S. military has influenced the food and beverages we eat, it also may be showing us the way to making sure we don’t waste it.
The military is doing this for myriad reasons. For one thing, those who defend us have openly voiced their concern about the impacts of climate change on national security, calling it a “threat multiplier” which will increase the likelihood of conflict as the earth warms up. And food and beverage waste is a major driver of climate change. Another is the economic — dealing with food and beverage waste is expensive for the military just as it is for businesses. Also, the less the military has to haul out means a more streamlined supply chain that increases the safety and effectiveness of our troops.
The restaurant industry is worth nearly $800 billion in the United States, and there are more than a million restaurants nationwide. But running a successful restaurant business is not easy — as many as 60 percent fail within the first three years of opening their doors. At full-service restaurants, profit-margins are razor thin, ranging between 1.8 and 3.5 percent, according to the National Restaurant Industry.
Successful restaurants must find a way to keep costs low while keeping the quality of service high — no simple task. Because it typically isn’t associated with the bottom line, food waste is one area of a restaurant’s operation that often is overlooked. Four to 10 percent of food purchased by a restaurant or food service operation is discarded before ever reaching a customer.
With restaurants generating large amounts of food and beverage waste, paying people to haul off and dispose of it is becoming a costly business liability. Meanwhile, growing regulatory uncertainty surrounding waste means smart businesses are looking to get ahead of the issue before it gets out of hand.
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.
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.
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.
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.