Here’s something you might not have heard about. Food waste is a big problem, and not just for the people who waste it. It’s a big problem for all of us. If you visit wastedfood.com you will learn a lot about it. Like for example, the fact that 40% of the food produced in the US is not consumed. And every day, >Americans waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. In fact, by some estimates, the production of food that is never consumed accounts for 2% of our national energy consumption. That amounts to roughly seventy times the amount of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon. But not only is that amount of wasted energy a bad thing, so is what happens to it when it gets to the landfill: it turns into methane, far more so than it would if someone had eaten it. And as we know methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, far more potent (but less abundant) than CO2. Landfills are the second largest human source of methane, exceeded only by livestock production. And if that wasn’t bad enough, an average American family of four wastes approximately $1,350 worth of food every year.
Given a figure like that, one can only imagine the cost of wastage in food businesses. Across, the pond, where people seem to be just a little bit ahead of us Americans, a British group called the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) just completed their second annual food waste survey that was given to a number of food manufacturers. The survey was administered in conjunction with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Results were encouraging indeed. Member companies with a combined turnover of over $24 billion, were found to have had more than 90% of all food and packaging waste either recycled or recovered last year. That means that out of the 529,000 tons of waste generated, less than 10% went to landfills. That a 45% improvement when compared to 2006. Altogether, 149 sites were surveyed.The survey was conducted as part of the Federation’s “Zero Food and Packaging Waste to Landfill by 2015” commitment.
This waste reduction initiative covers only one facet of FDF Five-Fold Environmental Ambition
The other facets are:
Considering the obvious cost savings involved, (no specific estimates were given) it would seem to be a no-brainer for companies to do this, but it was really only when the companies started to make focused efforts along these lines, that these kinds of results were achieved.
Roughly 5% of the recycling was done through composting with an additional one percent being fed into anaerobic digesters. Additionally, a significant amount of food was prevented by entering the waste stream, being diverted to other uses such as animal feed.
Some examples include:
- Alara Wholefoods is the first food manufacturer to be certified as a zero waste company at its factory in King’s Cross, London.
- McCain currently disposes of less than 1% of food and packaging waste from production in landfills and is working to further reduce this figure.
- Jordans & Ryvita Company has transformed its approach to waste management and, as a result, reduced the amount of waste from its Stockport manufacturing site sent to landfill by 96%.
- United Biscuits is already sending zero food waste to landfill and is now working hard to reduce the amount of non food waste sent to landfill.
These impressive results make me wonder what kind of savings could be achieved in the US if this kind of attention was given to food and packaging waste.
RP Siegel is co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though can we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
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