Recently a Youth Leadership UNESCO Project asked for a video about Donate Don’t Dump. As we don’t have a self produced official video we shared video stories done by student and professional news organizations. One of the news story they liked best was produced by VMSTV, a middle school broadcast program! Again- regardless of your age and experience you can make a difference!
Junemy Pantig is a recent Kinesiology graduate of CSUSM and outgoing Kinesiology Club President
In the United States, food waste is the second largest category of municipal solid waste
sent to landfills. About 40 percent of food goes uneaten and gets thrown away to landfills and
potentially contributes to greenhouse gas emissions especially with the production of methane, a
greenhouse gas that is twenty-one times more potent than carbon dioxide and one of the most
dangerous to the environment. Food waste contributes to greenhouse gas emissions by the
decomposition of food in landfills and the life cycle, which begins at the stage of production all
the way to consumption. Not many people realize that they are the biggest contributors to the
increase in methane emissions when they throw out their food as a producer, seller, or consumer.
The increased need to reduce food waste is likely to have a profound affect in the environment as
it reduces methane emissions and the effect it will have on climate change. Diverting food waste
will help reduce the occupancy it makes in landfills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With
the involvement of the government and businesses, being educated on handling food as a seller
and consumer and cutting back from throwing away surplus food will help raise awareness on
food waste. With Americans also suffering from food shortages, food insecurity can be reduced
along with greenhouse gas emissions when surplus food is donated to those in need rather than
being thrown into landfills. With the increase of these donations from commercial
establishments to organizations, there will be an improvement in the environment with climate
change especially with a decrease in methane emissions.
Keywords: Methane, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, food waste
Food waste is a problem worldwide. Not only are Americans throwing away food but
they are also throwing away about $165 billion each year. In the United States, about 40 percent
of food goes uneaten and gets thrown away ending up in rotting landfills where it becomes the
second largest category of municipal solid waste at 14.1% and accounts for a big portion of
methane emissions (Levis & Barlaz, 2011). From an environmental aspect, food waste leads to a
chemical usage such as fertilizers and pesticides, more fuel gets used for transportation, and the
more food rots in landfills, the more methane gets created, which is one of the most harmful
greenhouse gases that contributes to global warming and climate change (UNEP, n.d.). Methane
is twenty-three times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2). There are two ways in which
food waste contributes to greenhouse gas emissions: Decomposition of food waste after being
dumped in landfills and the life cycle, which starts from production to consumption (distribution,
retail, and consumer waste) (Venkat, 2012). Food waste increases the level of greenhouse gas
emissions especially with the production of methane, one of the most potent gases. There is an
increased need to reduce food waste as it affects the environment in regards to global warming
and climate change.
A literature review was used to search for information in relation to the effects of food
waste in the environment. Search engines, including Google Scholar, National University
Library System, and CSUSM Library, were used to seek information with using the terms “food
waste,” “climate change,” “environment,” “greenhouse gases,” “methane,” “rotting food,” sand
“landfills.” Articles were chosen based on the problems and solutions of wasted food in the
The introduction of methane emissions from food waste derive from the life cycle of
production to consumption. Americans throw away 1.3 pounds of food every day and 474.5
pounds per year (Miller, 2002). The landfill is generated at 25.9 million tons and 184.1 pounds
per person, the landfill volume is at 21.4 million cubic yards and density is at 2,000 pounds per
cubic yard (Miller, 2009). The food waste in distribution happens due to improper transporting
and handling of food especially when it’s perishable or kept at improper temperatures. Rejected
shipments can be thrown away especially when customers have no desire to take it. In 2008, the
food waste in retail estimated at 43 billion pounds (Gunders, 2012). Retailers view waste as part
of their business since customers select food based on cosmetic perfection. Some items are
damaged or unpopular to customers that they remain untouched until thrown out. Packages sent
to stores are too large for their expectant capacity and become overstocked, fresh and ready
made food often get thrown away, and they abide by the sell by date to be ready to stock up on
new items. Food waste in food services lose about 86 billion pounds of food (Gunders, 2012).
Plate waste is the biggest contributor due to large portions and undesired accompaniments.
Diners leave 17% of meal uneaten and 55% of leftovers aren’t taken home (Gunders, 2012).
Portion sizes have become bigger and can be two to eight times larger than a USDA or FDA
standard serving size. Of all restaurants, buffets waste the most food due to health regulations
and some restaurants abide by time limits. With food waste in households, families throw away
about 25% of food and drinks that they buy, with fresh fruits and vegetables being their biggest
waste (Gunders, 2012). Since products are cheap, families tend to purchase more than they need
resulting in a lot of spoilage and not enough utilization, they get confused with label dates, and
they increase their cooking portions. Foods thrown away are categorized as avoidable, possibly
avoidable, and unavoidable. People have a choice to eat food or they don’t. Avoidable food is
food and drinks thrown away that could still be eaten (Kelleher & Robins, 2013). Possibly
avoidable is food and drinks that are a preference for people’s eating habits (Kelleher & Robins,
2013). Unavoidable is food and drinks that have been contaminated or cannot be edible such as
bones (Kelleher & Robins, 2013). Food waste during disposal decomposes uneaten food
resulting in 23 percent of all U.S. methane emissions. Food scraps decay more than organics.
Beef is the single largest contributor and accounts for 16% of total emissions (Venkat, 2012).
Animal products have a huge impact to climate change since their emission footprint is really
high and contribute to 57% of the emissions compared to fruits, vegetables and grains with a low
emission footprint contributing to 31% of emissions (Venkat, 2012).
With the realization of food waste going to landfills, diverting this waste will help
conserve the limited space and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Gunders
(2012), it is suggested that the U.S. government should conduct a food waste study and establish
national goals to reduce the waste. They should also explain the actual meaning of date labels on
food since consumers tend to misinterpret and assume that it’s expired, otherwise they wouldn’t
be throwing away good food. State and local governments should implement prevention
campaigns for food waste in their jurisdictions and operations (Gunders, 2012). Even though
retailers view waste as a part of their business, they should start to reconsider how it affects not
only their store but the environment. Americans can help reduce waste by being educated about
it and learning about their portions, when food starts to rot, and improving their grocery
This review provides evidence for an increased need to reduce food waste as it affects the
environment in various ways from the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, all
the way to global warming. When wasted food ends up in a landfill, it decomposes to form a the
greenhouse gas methane, which has global warming potential twenty-five times greater than
carbon dioxide (Levis & Barlaz, 2011). Food waste also accounts for more than one quarter of
total freshwater used in food and four percent of petroleum oil consumption, which all go to
waste (Venkat, 2012). Landfills that also contain organic materials are broken down by bacteria
to produce methane (EPA, n.d.), and adding rotting food increases these emissions. In the United
States, over thirty million metric tons of food waste is generated.
Worldwide, many people also experience food shortages. Forty-seven million Americans
suffer from food insecurity and are unsure when or where their next meal will be (FoodStar
Partners, n.d.). Over seventeen million children go to bed hungry, while senior citizens and
military personnel and their families are the greatest to suffer from food shortages (Donate Don’t
Dump, n.d.). Reducing food waste by fifteen percent would suffice to feed more than twenty-five
million Americans every year (Gunders, 2012). Many organizations collect surplus food from
commercial establishments and ensure that it goes to those in need and not to landfills. FoodStar
Partners have created an app that connects consumers to retailers who sell cosmetically
imperfect and surplus food at low prices (Kelleher & Robins, 2013). In 2012, California enacted
Bill 152, which gives farmers a 10 percent tax credit which is equivalent to 10 percent of the cost
of fresh fruits or fresh vegetables donated to a food bank (Kelleher & Robins, 2013). In addition,
food waste in landfills and the impact on climate change, could be avoided if the food portions or
food had been minimized and eaten by humans (Hall et al., 2009). Further research is needed to
account the life cycle and landfill waste generated at the global level.
Food waste has many economical and environmental impacts. Food waste should be set
to a minimum in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the change of climate. Within the
life cycle, producers, sellers, and consumers can all find ways to reduce waste by considering
various options of improving distribution and consumption. And with many Americans
experiencing food insecurity, this waste can be reduced when surplus food is donated to those in
need rather than thrown to rot in landfills. With the increase of food donations from commercial
establishments to organizations, there will be a huge improvement in the environment as far as
greenhouse gas emissions affecting the climate. There are many ways to help this problem and
it’s a matter of effort and learning to fix it. As we try to combat global climate change, we need
to put into perspective on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our environment from the
food we eat whether it be at the governmental, retail, or consumer level.
When you think of who is hungry in the U.S. you don’t usually picture a college student with backpack full of books standing in a bread line to get free food. Sadly this is exactly who we see at our Rescued Food Distributions near a California State University. Today an estimated 40% of students struggle with hunger in some areas. Our university students are this country’s next generation labor force and when they are struggling to feed themselves it takes away from their academic achievement. We are in a global economy and academic achievement is critical to our nation’s economic future. Having our brightest struggling to feed themselves hurts our future. Hunger hurts. Meanwhile, over 96 billion pounds of good food end up dumped into landfills each year. Doesn’t it make sense to rescue that food before it becomes waste and get it to the hungry? Feed the hungry not landfills!
From “America’s Food Stamp Student Body”….”Apart from of the obvious social consequences, food insecurity has been associated with depression, stress, poor academic performance and poor physical health, which only compounds the effort needed to advance oneself in this intensely competitive economy.”https://www.vocativ.com/02-2014/americas-food-stamp-student-body/
Although we are an all volunteer teen powered organization we have been able to save over 900,000 pounds of edible food from becoming landfill waste. We promote corporate surplus food donation, advocate, do educational outreach, and distribute donated food to the hungry . We might be volunteers but we get the job done and are looking for more teens to join us.
Amazing! 1,427,038 pounds of good food rescued by our partner, North County Food Bank, last year. They are proof that a food bank can feed more hungry families and help the environment by incorporating food rescue. By accepting commercial food they are able to feed more people and divert healthy food from rotting in landfills. Grocers, farmers, and food companies can then donate their surplus or short dated food instead of dumping it in the trash. Food and the resources used to produce it are too precious to waste. We can make a difference! Saving 1,427,038 pounds from rotting in the landfill is a great start.
Add volunteering to your #resolutions this year. Join us and help feed the #hungry while helping the #environment.
While I am not old enough to vote, I was able to co-sponsor legislation as part of the San Diego Hunger Advocacy Network to help financially struggling military families in California. Co-sponsoring legislation was exciting, frustrating, and ultimately inspiring process thad me constantly humming School House Rock’s “I’m Just A Bill”.
Excitement at the possibility of helping military personnel put food on the table was my first phase in this process. Several years ago my older sister filmed active military families in line for hours to get free food from charities for a student documentary. While I was only 12, that discovery set me on path to create a national charity and then four years later to a Senator’s office making a pitch for his “yes” vote to pass my “No Hunger For Heroes” Bill. My little teen non-profit partners with the heavy weights like Feeding America, San Diego Hunger Coalition, and North County Food Bank who actually treat me like part of their team and provide us amazing opportunities to make a difference. Every year we fly to Sacramento to lobby law makers on Hunger Action Day, but this time was extra special because we had legislation pending. Having worked on passing “Zero Waste” legislation previously, I was familiar with some of the aspects of turning an idea into a law, but co-sponsoring legislation is very different. That bill is your little guy and you want don’t want to see him sitting on the steps of the Capitol Building singing sadly.
The legislative process is very complicated; it generates a lot of paperwork, emails, and adults talking in acronyms. There are so many procedures and so many bills, that the very law makers who author them don’t always keep them straight. Seriously, I was in a meeting with a State Senator who didn’t remember the bill he was just asked about was one of his. One of the big hurdles for my bill was getting past the Appropriations Committee, where a few key elected leaders debate new legislation especially about cost. As our bill had a cost associated with helping active military families, who struggle put food on the table, “concessions” had to be made. Now that infuriated me, because there are certain priorities I think we need to have as a nation and making sure our troops can adequately feed their families is one of them. We ask 1% of our population to protect the other 99% of us, move them around a bunch, don’t pay them much, and then deploy them over and over again to places where they get shot at. Even in tough economic times we need to have a safety net for these Americans. While upset that my bill was trimmed, it could still help military families; especially soon to be veterans who can’t re-enlist due to the troop cut backs.
With procedure deadlines looming our little guy made it out of the Appropriations Committee and went to the Senate floor for a vote. The California Senate voted unanimously for our bill and so too did the State Assembly. The Governor signed our “No Hunger For Heroes” bill a few weeks later and our little guy finally got that shinny gold seal, fancy paper, and became law. How are laws are made is complicated, but it works. It is inspiring to think that in our country even if you aren’t old enough to vote, you can be a part of the legislative process. My experience also made me painfully aware that the hungry and the environment don’t have the big teams of high powered lobbyists. Those types of legislative issues fall to people like us. In order to ensure our government is “Of the people, for the people”, we need to get past the frustrations of politics and actively participate. Without us, law makers only need to remember the bills proposed by the guys in the expensive suits, not the ones lobbied for by a girl with braces.
Our Partner food bank rescued 2.2 million pounds of food from being dumped. Food went to help hungry kids & seniors instead of the landfill. Food banks are not only helping feed the hungry they are also helping to save the environment. Rescued food distributions are healthier than traditional non-perishable food drives. Rescued food is the short shelf life food like fresh fruits and veggies. Non-perishable food is often loaded with salt and all fiber removed to extend shelf life. So rescued food is free, a sustainable way to help feed the hungry and better for the environment. Fruits with a few brown spots are better off going to feed hungry families instead of clogging up our landfills and creating methane gas pollution.