MN350 volunteer on the Food Solutions Team
Project Drawdown ranks 80 solutions for bringing down the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in order to avert a climate catastrophe. Food waste is ranked at #3 of those solutions, producing about half methane and half carbon dioxide all the way along its life, from fertilizing and preparing the land, growing the crops, harvesting, and transporting to market. When it’s thrown into the landfill, it produces methane. All in all, food waste creates over 70 gigatons of greenhouse gases.
In fact, nearly 90% of us throw our food waste into landfills; however, landfills spew methane into the atmosphere for 20 years or more as the organic matter slowly decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen). Methane escaping from landfills is even more destructive to the environment than carbon dioxide and creates climate change problems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately 40% of the food that is raised is wasted. For folks like you and me, it’s as if we go to the grocery store, buy three bags’ worth of food, and on the way home we drop one of the bags out the window! Try tracking the food you throw out: It’s an eye-opener.
Food waste is categorized in two ways: wasted food (still-usable food that hasn’t been served) or food scraps (food that has been eaten and therefore contaminated). Ultimately, when we stop wasting food we’ll find that we can grow less, use less fertilizer and fuel, and keep a significant amount of carbon out of the atmosphere. The EPA produced this graphic for reducing food waste.
Feed hungry people
Our first priority is diverting food from the landfill to feed hungry people. On the plus side, many restaurants and grocery stores are already on board with making their surplus food available to food shelves around the state.
Our next choice would be to feed the food scraps to animals. With this strategy, we would minimize the amount of food grown to feed them, as well as the carbon inputs (fertilizer and fuel) to grow the food.
We might also find industrial uses. For example, food scraps can be collected,composted, and used to generate fuel and electricity through combined heat and power generation (anaerobic digestion process). New businesses could be created to use wasted food from another source (e.g., beer made from the heels of bread usually thrown out in a sandwich shop).
Finally, organics like food scraps and other compostable materials can be composted to make the soil richer, sequester carbon, and hold more water.
Landfill or incineration are our last resort.
Where do you start?
- Buy just what you need. If you have food you are planning to throw out, give it to a neighbor or friend. Or use the app OLIO to advertise what you have and give it away.
- Do not throw food in the landfill. Instead, compost your food scraps in your backyard, on your curbside, or at your neighborhood compost drop site. You can pick up compostable plastic bags at the site to use and turn in when full. Pick up free bags of compost at the same site. Your plants will love you.
Heather Miller is a MN350 volunteer working on the Food Solutions Team. She has been a climate activist for the last 15 years in Michigan and in Minnesota. Her family, husband, two daughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren are her major motivators in supporting the climate movement. When she isn’t spending time with them, she likes to create pastel or watercolor landscapes of beautiful places.