Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Reducing Your Food Waste To Landfill

When we think about food waste, we tend to think about wastefulness. After all, when we waste food we are conscious about people going hungry. A little bit like, in my day, my parents castigating us for not clearing our plates by saying “there are starving children in Africa! Finish what’s on your plate!”. But my smart arse brother’s, when staring at the untouched broccoli, rejoinder was always “well give it them then!”.

Yes. Food waste is wasteful. As many many people in South Africa and around the world are hungry. Are starving. Are dying from malnutrition. So we should be thinking about them and so reduce our waste.

But there is another negative consequence of food waste: carbon emissions. When food waste — any organic material for that matter — is sent to a landfill, it has dire environmental consequences. Food waste in landfills rots, produces methane (and other devastatingly dangerous green house gases such as Nitrous Oxide), and provides a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria.

People who live around landfills have significant health issues including eye, throat and lung irritation, nausea, headache, nasal blockage, sleeping difficulties, weight loss, chest pain, and aggravation of asthma. It is no wonder that only the seriously desperate choose to live near a landfill — the more privileged will reject any landfill proposal near their homes.

How can one reduce food waste going to landfills?

The food waste to landfill problem needs to be seen in context; it’s not just the food waste we have at home that is the problem. It’s the whole system, from farm, to market to supermarket to our homes (did you know that food, in of itself has a massive footprint of 4,000kg/tonne CO2e which is higher than the manufacturing footprint of car tyres or even glass; think of the energy required to grow, harvest and transport a Chilean avocado to Johannesburg).

Food waste arises from four sources:

  • Production and harvesting. Sometimes this is inadvertent due to drought, hail, etc. But just as often this can be related to cultivation errors and transportation hiccups (as simple as the harvester not arriving on time, or breaking down).
  • Processing where fresh produce is trimmed, treated and packaged. Think of carrot heads and onion skins.
  • Additionally, there is massive amounts of waste at the fresh food markets (wholesale and retail distribution). Produce which is not sold and perishes. Some which doesn’t meet standards or has been stored beyond its safe time.
  • Finally there’s us buying too much. Over catering at offices (too much potato bake!). Serving portions that are too large. And, very importantly, feeding people with food that they either don’t like or which is badly cooked (I’m guilty of this).

Gleaning aside, we can’t control the production process but we can make a difference on the consumer side. In France, for example, supermarket food waste has been banned and has to be donated to food banks. This has also lead to clever marketers selling “ugly food” in very interesting and fun ways.

In our homes we can stop food waste going to landfill with a few simple tricks:

  • Buy less more frequently. This stops food rotting and then needing to be binned.
  • Buy unprocessed vegetables and do the preparation yourself. This way you can compost the trimmings or even grow them again!
  • Cook what your family likes. Yes, as parents we want our kids to eat their broccoli. But what’s really the point? Are there not other healthy alternatives?
  • Don’t load that plate. Rather let people come back for seconds.
  • Repurpose that waste. For example, we turn the remainder of a roast chicken into a sandwich or a soup, into stock and then into dog food. So we can enjoy the main meal, the left overs, the bone nutrients and flavour in the form of stock, and a supplementary source of calcium for our dogs.
  • Be careful of the bottom shelf in your fridge. I’m convinced that science will prove that taller people waste more than shorter; basically because they never look at the bottom shelf.

I’m sure that there are more things we can do. And we’d welcome more tips on how we can reduce our wastage and thereby our impact on landfills.
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