Livable Planet

Here's How We Can Conserve Nearly Two Billion Tons of Food Thrown Away Annually

People generally waste too much food every day, but a global network of farmers, businesses and policymakers has a plan to change that.
Image via Unsplash

Perfectly edible food gets tossed everyday. And it's no small potatoes. Globally each year, 1.3 billion tons of food go to landfills instead of mouths. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food waste accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than any country in the world save China and the United States. Recently, the Food Tank Summit united a global network of farmers, businesses, policymakers, youth, educators, eaters - all pushing for food system change.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently released the second edition of its landmark food waste report, Wasted: How America Is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. There are structural changes that must occur upstream at the level of big agriculture, transportation and distribution. However, a key finding showed that consumers are the largest generators of food waste, followed by restaurants and other food service institutions, then farms and supermarkets.

"America throws out more than 400 pounds of food per person per year," the report states. "And when that food is wasted, so are the resources that go into producing it, including 21 percent of freshwater used by the U.S. agricultural industry. Wasted food also generates climate change pollution equivalent to 37 million cars per year."

The Food Tank Summit, a gathering of people who collaborate on providing sustainable solutions for our most pressing environmental and social problems. highlighted how hunger, obesity, climate change, unemployment, and other problems can be solved by more research and investment in sustainable agriculture and better practices at home.

What you can do:

Stick to a list: 36 percent of Millennials shop for groceries online compared to the average 31 percent of older adults.

"When online shopping for groceries online know that you are likely to buy at least 29 percent more than when shopping at a store," Tom Vilsack, former United States Secretary of Agriculture, told the Food Tank Summit. "Check your fridge to see what you really need. If we respect food then we will figure out the logistics."


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Don't throw food away: Tom Colicchio, a New York based celebrity chef, joked that he is a "depression era housewife."

"We are two generations removed from understanding the importance of food," said Colicchio. "My grandpa would collect the bacon grease from the morning and bottle it for later use." He cited the rise of fast food as a key to why we value food less. "If a cheeseburger cost less than a dollar then we don't feel guilty throwing that away."

Chef Tom Colicchio at the Food Tank Summit. (Image via Facebook)

Make sauces out of too ripe tomatoes and freeze it - this goes for other fruits and vegetables going south. Or extend the shelf life with FreshPaper - it looks like a square sheet of a towel. It's meant to wrap around fruits and veggies and inhibits fungal growth to extend the life of perishables.

Buy ugly fruits and veggies: More than six billion pounds of fresh produce a year never make it to the store because they are "cosmetically challenged."

Serve and order small amounts: "Ask a waiter for only half a portion if you're not going to eat it all or tell the waiter not to bring bread and butter if you don't want it," said Vilsack. Also, don't expect a fixed menu at restaurants. More chefs are going the way of building menus based on "catch of the day" or what is available from local farms.

READ MORE: This Program Conserves Marine Life So You Can Sustainably Devour Seafood

Support learning gardens and urban farms: "Our schools are obesity machines," South African philanthropist and restaurateur Kimbal Musk told the Food Tank Summit. The result, he says, of feeding kids high-calorie, low-nutrient, processed food shipped in from far off farms and factories. "It leaves us disconnected, which is why we created Learning Gardens (school yard unfenced garden plots) to introduce kids to real food."


The Learning Gardens project, now in over 400 schools across the United States, teaches kids the basics of farming and nutrition and supplements their salad bar at school. "Kids still see pulling a carrot up as magic. It's the perfect age to capture their wonder and teach them about science and nutrition."

Apply for a Learning Garden at your school.

For young adults, Musk created Square Roots, an urban farming program for 18-24-year-olds. If accepted, the program offers a 13-month Resident Entrepreneur Program to hone and execute a Farming Business Plan. The farming center is located in Brooklyn, New York where food is grown inside hydroponic, controlled-climate containers side by side in a parking lot. Each container can yield more than more 50 lbs of leafy greens each week and only needs about eight gallons of water a day.

"Urban farming is a huge part of the future," said Musk. "It brings food closer to the consumer and eliminates harmful parts of the supply chain." Square Roots is supported by the USDA. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, one fifth of all the food in the world is already being grown in cities.