by Katherine Matutes, PhD
According to the EPA, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S. in 2010 alone - more than any other material category (with the exception of paper).
That's an astounding figure, especially when considered alongside the fact that 925 million people in the world do not have enough to eat (per the United Nations World Food Program).
While 98% of the world’s hungry live in developing countries, the U.S. is not immune to the problem. USDA estimates that 17.2 million households were food insecure in 2010, the highest number ever recorded in this country.
This situation of some with too much and many more with not enough is not an easy problem to solve globally. Food waste in the U.S. typically can't be used to support the hungry elsewhere. As a result, food waste is the single largest contributor to solid waste in the U.S. and a significant source of the potent greenhouse gas methane. As food waste rots, it releases methane - which possesses 21 times the global warming capacity of carbon dioxide.
Luckily, there are some solutions that can help improve both problems - including understanding your own personal impact.
My 8-year-old daughter said to me last week, “But I’m only one person – what can I do?”
I know she's not the only one who feels this way. It's important to realize that small steps taken by many can add up to make a big difference. Here are some easy, positive things you can do to help improve the situation:
Take stock of the types of foods you frequently throw away.
Keep a list for a week or two of what you discard to help you see what you're purchasing in excess. Then, reduce the amount of those items or establish that you need to use leftovers more frequently.
An added bonus: You'll help reduce your grocery budget.
Save leftover vegetable and fruit scraps for composting.
While it seems threatening to some, composting really isn’t hard - and you don’t have to have a big pile in your yard. Start with a small composting tub, add bacteria to speed the process and voila: dirt.
Don't have a garden? Donate your compost to a local community garden.
Still apprehensive? Check out the Bokashi composting kit for an easy way to get started.
Organizations like Second Helpings, an Indianapolis non-profit that helps feed our local food-insecure population, uses excess food inventory from local restaurants and donors while simultaneously training those in need a new vocational skill. Visit their website for donation information.
If everyone were to take part in just one of these suggestions, we'd no longer have to ask, "What impact can I have as just one person?" Together, we can find solutions to even the most difficult of problems.
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