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Greensource: We can significantly reduce our food waste – and footprint – as long as we do it together

As an avid Facebook user, I often feel bombarded by videos promising to change my life. And while many of them are remarkable videos, I can only think of one that has truly left a lasting impact. It was about how to eat an apple. Start at the bottom, eat upward.

The discovery that the inedible core is just a myth was eye-opening to me. And because I do not eat several bushels of apples in a single sitting, I eat the seeds just as well with the hopes that perhaps I am building up a slow immunity to cyanide.

World War I-era poster combatting food waste (USDA photo)

World War I-era poster combatting food waste (USDA photo)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 35 million tons of food waste was disposed of in 2013. That winds around to being about 220 pounds per person alive in 2013. While that number doesn’t really delve in to food spoilage during shipping and other similar matters, it does give us a glance at our own impacts.

Recently, the USDA and the EPA jointly announced a new, ambitious plan – they want to eliminate 50 percent of all food waste by 2030. This plan includes a hierarchy of approaches with “source reduction” at the top and familiar solutions like composting in fifth place (out of six).

Why is food waste important? In addition to reduction being economic sense, the EPA reminds us that food is the “single largest component of municipal solid waste” and landfills are the third leading contributor to the climate-changing gas methane. Not only are we reducing our atmospheric impact, we’re cutting back on landfill space needed to keep up with our wasteful habits. Additionally, the more food we’re wasting is more food kept from people who might really need it – instead of donating food to soup kitchens or food pantries, our tendency is to throw it straight into the garbage where it helps no one.

So how can you help, you ask? As I teach students on a regular basis, reduce is always the most important “R” when talking about waste. Portion out how much you might need for the week and have a plan for the food that you buy. If you’re anything like I am, it’s easy to find some ingredient at the store, imagine the elaborate dish you want to make with it, purchase it and then give up later to order a pizza.

Making a change takes time, but we have until 2030 to get there. If you find your food items are near the end of their lives with no plan in sight to be used, get in touch with your local food bank or soup kitchen. Give that food away to a program that might use it right away for someone who cannot afford any food.

And if you’re already rocking out steps 1 and 2, consider volunteering with one of those places and get involved in sharing the love. GleanKY is another excellent non-profit in Central Kentucky that you can volunteer with. As expressed by their mission, “GleanKY gathers and redistributes excess fruits and vegetables to nourish Kentucky’s hungry.”

Together, we can reduce our impact and shrink our footprint. And if you ever need a tip or want some help with starting a zero-waste team at your school or work, contact us at Bluegrass Greensource. We’re in it together, and there’s no time like the present to get to work.

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Danny Woolums is a state certified Environmental Educator working at Bluegrass Greensource. The Transylvania University graduate has served on Transylvania University’s President’s Council for Sustainability, the Transylvania University Garden Association Council and the Board of Directors for Bluegrass Greenworks. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education.

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