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Food Waste and The Environment

Food Waste HannibalMany consumers are concerned about the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), antibiotic use in animals, and whether to buy organic vs non-organic. Many worry about certain diseases, cancer and illness. Yet very few of us consider the amount of wasted food in our world on a given day and the consequences that follow. An estimated 9 million people die each year (1 every 4 seconds) due to hunger and malnutrition. Approximately 1 billion people don’t have enough food. In 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in food-insecure households. Yet the statistics on food waste are environmentally, morally and economically outrageous.

The Waste:
• An estimated 1.3 billion tons of edible food is wasted worldwide
• In the USA, approximately 40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.
• In 2010, nearly 34 million tons of food was wasted in the USA - enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times.
• Fruits and vegetables, along with roots and potatoes have the highest wastage rate (yet the average person does not consume the recommended amount of fruits/vegetables).
• Annually, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa
• A single restaurant in the U.S. can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in a year
• In processing New York City’s waste alone, garbage trucks make 250,000 trips throughout the city and the same number of long hauls out of state…the average garbage truck, with its frequent stops and idling, gets about 3 miles per gallon.
• “A more recent estimate by Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institute of Health, found that a quarter of the food we squander would provide three meals per day for 43 million people. What’s more, it would yield enough to lift 430 million Americans, out of hunger.”
• Worldwide, we are estimated to grow by 2-2.5 billion by 2050, that’s an increase of 75million people a year. We all need to eat, and need an estimated 60-80% more food by 2050. People worry how agriculture is going to feed our growing population, when so many are already starving. Rather than waiting on an answer, maybe we should look at our food waste instead?

The Cost:
• Food losses and waste amounts to roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing countries.
• Food loss costs a family of four at least $589.76 annually.

The Environment:
• Food waste leaves a big carbon footprint, an estimated 3.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere each year. This contributes to global warming and climate change
• Food waste that goes to the landfill breaks down anaerobically and produces methane; methane is 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
• Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
• Food waste means inefficiently used water, land and energy, which in turn leads to a diminished natural ecosystem and the services provided by.
• Less than 3% of food waste was composted in 2010. (Environmental Protection Agency). Is this as good as we can do?

References: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Economic Research Services, USDA Economic Research Service, FaceTheFactsUSA.org, Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), Green Restaurant Association, American Wasteland, Environmental Protection Agency, University of Arizona