We're Not Cleaning Our Plates Anymore
According to the EPA, 33 million tons of food waste reach landfills each year in the United States. This food waste could be prevented, used to feed people, or composted to create a valuable soil amendment.
The Austin City Council should be commended for its unprecedented creation in late December of a new proclamation for 2013, the year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery. This is an exciting development for Austin because statistics show that Americans generally waste 40 percent of their food, which not only has a negative environmental impact, but represents a lost opportunity to feed the growing number of hungry Americans.
In the U.S., it’s estimated we throw away a third of the food we buy each week! This tossed food ends up in the landfill where, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't compost. The inside of a landfill is devoid of sunlight and oxygen, necessary ingredients for the production of organic compost. What you get instead is the waste product, methane gas, a contributor to global warming which the EPA estimates is 21 percent more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
Food waste, however, is not a pretty topic to talk about, and compost piles to most people are not very aethestically pleasing. Jake Stewart, Director of the City of Austin's Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Garden Program, is soliciting the help of local artists in addition to Austin's network of cooperatives and non-profits to bring awareness to the power of neighborhood sustainable gardening as well as ways to answer the question, "How do you make compost piles more beautiful?
This renewed focus by city leaders on local food production will hopefully translate to increased awareness for the entirety of the slow food movement. Participating as a community in the growing process of food at the front end is one way to ensure less waste at the back end.
"The crazier our world gets now, it's even that much more important that we connect with each other and with the food we eat," Stewart said.
Students at the University of Maryland have decided to take food trash into their own hands. Ben Simon has formed the Food Recovery Network which has now spread across 10 other college campuses. The market research initiated by Simon found that 75 percent of America’s 3,000 college campuses don’t have any food recovery system in place, which results in a waste of at least 22 million pounds of edible food each year. But that’s just on college campuses. Remember the sobering statistic of more than a third of our household food being thrown away? That translates to 70 billion pounds of food thrown away each year while one in four American children is at risk of hunger.
Simon took his one student organization and spread the idea to 11 different student campus groups, including service and social justice organizations and a military group. This community network shares the responsibility of collecting food on different nights from all the many dining halls on campus and redistributes the food, resulting in the donation of about 30,000 meals in their first year. They estimate their numbers to have now topped over 90,000 pounds of food for donation at a value of $500,000.
All this from a bunch of volunteer college kids running on nothing more than passion. Maybe some of them were listening when their parents nagged them to eat everything on their plates because somewhere in India or China children were starving.