It wasn’t very long ago when certain cities on the West Coast were hit by bad weather and lost electricity that police were called in to protect a trash bin because it was full of food that was thrown out by a restaurant. A mob had formed around the bin and eventually the police had to tend to other duties and within hours, the trash bin was empty.
The reason why the restaurant threw the food away is that without power, the specified food temperature became lower than what the restaurant was allowed to store it. There are a couple of lessons here about food waste.
The first is that it was too bad that the restaurant couldn’t bring in a generator or something similar to run their buildings electricity to save the food. The second is that the restaurant’s owner could have given the food away to a food bank. However, in the middle of bad weather, they probably did what they could do at that time. The third is that food insecurity is a very real thing and there are many who are going without food.
In Lyon County, we do a little bit better than the United States does when it comes to food ending up in the landfill. We throw away approximately 22% of food which includes expired food, food that is in containers and is unopened but still within the expiration date as well as scraps such as potato or carrot peels. The United States throws away approximately 40% of the food that is raised for people to eat.
Wasted food is one contributor to methane gas which contributes to global warming. As wasted food or food scraps sit in landfills throughout the United States, it is compacted and covered which through this process makes the methane gas as the food decomposes.
In Minnesota, we are beginning to make steps towards reducing the amount of food that goes into the landfills. Many businesses in our area contribute uneaten food to food shelves. We can learn to compost food scraps such as potato and carrot peelings even if we don’t have a garden to place the compost into; we can also use a good compost for fertilizer on our lawns. We can help by simply wasting less food.
As one of the largest food holidays is right around the corner, there are things that everyone can do to help the situation. Plan meals very carefully and make sure to use leftovers for meals within a few days of the meal being consumed. Make sure that everyone only takes what they can eat (I think most of us hear that from our parents all of the time). Ask guests to bring their own containers to the feast so that they can take home some of the leftovers too.
In the refrigerator, have a shelf marked “Eat First,” so that all family members who are looking for snacks or to heat up a quick meal, choose something from that shelf first. Date and label containers with when it was placed into the container to what is in the container. Be watchful that if something has not been eaten, use your freezer and freeze leftovers. You already have the date and what is in the container, which makes for a great quick lunch the following week. Use your freezer like your refrigerator and have a space for people to look first before opening up something new.
U.S. citizens waste about 1,100 pounds of food per person each year. This adds up to approximately $1,600-$1,700 dollars of food. Just by changing how we shop, prepare and store food can save us $30 per week in wasted food. Wasted food also represents wasted demand for water, land and fuel. Minnesota is adopting a Food Recovery Hierarchy which has landfilling wasted food at the bottom for the last thing to do and reducing food waste at the top. Of all of the reducing we can do, food waste should be one of the top priorities.
For additional information on food waste, please visit the following websites: Simple Ways to Cut Food Waste, MPCA, and from the PBS Newshour, “Food, Glorious Food” video as well as their series called “Waste Not, Want Not.”
For more information on reducing waste, reusing and recycling items no longer needed or wanted, call the Environmental office at (507) 532-8210.