In the U.S.,35% of all food goes unsold or uneaten – and most of that goes to waste. Food waste takes up more space in US landfills than any other material (including plastic) and produces greenhouse gasses equal to 37 million cars. 

The reasons for food waste vary from unwanted imperfect ‘grade B’ farm produce to misunderstanding food packaging ‘best by’ dates. 

Unfortunately, when food goes uneaten, the resources
used to produce it go to waste as well.

Consumers are the biggest food waste culprits

Food is lost at every point along the food chain: farms, manufacturing, restaurants, grocery stores, and residences. But surprisingly, most food waste occurs in our homes. Individual actions to reduce household food waste can make a significant impact. 

Solutions

Cultivating Conscientious Consumers

Our blog “We Are What we DON’T Eat: The Environmental impact of Food Waste” provides tips on reducing household food waste, including:

  • Strategies for purchasing only what you need 
  • Tips for using everything you buy
  • Options for composting your remaining food scraps
Food Scrap Diversion

According to the EPA, food scraps compose about 22% of the average American’s trash. In America, trash is typically processed one of two ways: dumped in landfills, or incinerated, sometimes to generate energy.  Neither is a good method for food scraps.  

Gas released by landfills is responsible for about 15% of US methane emissions which are 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Incineration, as used by Arlington, is among the most inefficient ways to produce energy. As food waste is composed of about 70% water, and burning it requires considerable energy, the net energy gain is low or non-existent as compared to renewable sources such as wind, hydro-or geothermal.

Whichever method of trash disposal is used, it is far better for communities to divert organics from the waste stream.

Household Composting

In addition to reducing food waste in our homes, composting food scraps is an easy solution to reduce our environmental footprint.

Arlington is an environmentally-minded community where:

Considering there are nearly 30,000 Arlington households, there is room for improvement.

Municipal Organic Waste Bans

Massachusetts is one of only 9 states with a food waste ban policy. In 2011, Connecticut adopted the first US organic waste ban. Since then, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland (and Washington in 2024) have followed suit. 

In November 2022, Massachusetts strengthened its original 2014 food material disposal ban requiring businesses and institutions generating one-half ton or more food waste per week to compost.

So what do the impacts of these bans look like? 

  • In the first few years of Vermont’s 2014 food waste law, they experienced a 40% increase in donations and reduced GHG emissions by 37%. 
  • As of July 2020, all Vermont residential and commercial food waste is banned from landfills. 
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts implemented curbside composting in 2018 and now collects 40 tons of food waste per week.

In addition to the environmental benefits of introducing these laws, such as healthier soil and reduction of climate emissions, other benefits include economic growth and new jobs in certain industries, and helping the socioeconomic issue of food insecurity. 

Understanding Food Date Labels

As 37% of food waste in the US occurs at home, standardization and education around date labels can be crucial in  bringing down food waste. What many consumers don’t know is that ‘best buy’ dates are not mandated by the US government. Rather, the dates indicate how long the manufacturer guarantees the quality of the food, not whether it is safe to eat.

The different terminology consumers find on a product’s packaging (“best by,” “sell by,” “best before,” and “use by”) can lead to confusion and therefore more food being thrown out. Understanding food date labeling can help to reduce food waste at home.

Food Rescue

Food rescue organizations are a crucial link in the food waste reduction chain. By partnering with farms, grocery stores, manufacturers and distributors, excess food is redistributed where it is needed – to those who are experiencing food insecurity.

The following Boston area food rescue  organizations partner with entities like Arlington EATS (Arlington’s food pantry), whose mission is to engage the community in eliminating food insecurity and hunger.

Small Actions are Cumulative

Food waste is one of the most significant issues facing the world today, with the US alone discarding more than 40 million tons of food every year. Every single one of us can take small actions to do our part to reduce excess food waste and improve our environment.

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