Fighting food waste at home: Small steps, big impact

One and a half billion. That’s about how many chicken wings Americans prepared to eat during the Big Game, the second largest food consumption day of the year after Thanksgiving. If that’s not mind-boggling enough, Americans throw away one-third of their food every year. If a similar pattern followed on Sunday, nearly half a billion wings ended up in the trash once the game ended. 

The economic impact of our everyday food waste is shocking. Families waste $1,500 annually on unused food. It consumes one-quarter of the space in our landfills. This is problematic because food in landfills, where it’s devoid of oxygen, releases methane, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet. And reducing methane is one of the most immediate impacts we can have on climate change. 

As White House national climate advisor and EPA administrator, I encouraged businesses and organizations to voluntarily reduce food waste through USDA and EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. Our Food Loss & Waste Reduction Goal seeks to cut food waste in half by 2030. Combined with the historic commitments to our clean energy economy from the Biden administration, the U.S. national target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is within reach. The Inflation Reduction Act includes $5 billion for Greenhouse Gas Planning and Implementation Grants that can be used to reduce food waste, in addition to significant investments in USDA’s conservation programs that will improve our agricultural practices, and incentives to electrify our homes. These efforts extend to the Global Methane Pledge — a commitment cofounded by the U.S. and joined by over 100 countries to collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.

The U.S. is making monumental strides in our global and domestic efforts to mitigate climate change. And cities are putting in place programs that rethink how municipalities do their part to divert residential food waste from landfills. My hometown of Boston is initiating a pilot program — Project Oscar — where there are 24-hour composting drop-off locations. Boston is also leading the pack by offering curbside food waste pickup, turning food scraps into compost or clean energy. New York City just announced that curbside composting will be expanded to all five boroughs by the end of 2024, which will enable residents to find a way to divert approximately one-third of their trash from landfills. 

But about 40 percent of the food that ends up in landfills comes from our kitchens, which means we have a role to play, too. We can create our own climate action plans for ourselves and our families. Some of the biggest tools we have as individuals to tackle the climate crisis reside within our very own homes. 

Innovative options are on the rise for purchasing, preparing and discarding food. For example, Mill, a new household food bin that converts food scraps into grounds, repurposes them into chicken feed. This process doesn’t just keep food as food, it has the potential to prevent 4.94M metric tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) of climate pollution from entering the atmosphere per year and allows families to easily track — and feel good about — the pollution they avoided.

Technologies like Apeel, which protects food from exposure to oxygen to keep it fresh for longer periods of time, offer a head start on a variety of meaningful actions to reduce food waste, and motivate long-term behavior change. Companies like Imperfect Foods — which partners with farmers and producers to keep extra or ugly produce from going to waste — and Too Good To Go, which helps people find and purchase extra food from restaurants, don’t just reduce pollution, they help feed families that would otherwise go hungry.  

This is why I’m more optimistic than ever about our ability to tackle the climate crisis. While sweeping climate legislation passed by President Biden is creating jobs and paving the way for system-wide change, these new technologies show us that we can do our part in the food sector and in our homes.  

Gina McCarthy was the first-ever White House national climate advisor and former U.S. EPA administrator

Original Story: The Hill

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