Many of us grew up in households where we were told to clean our plates because kids were starving in China. While the notion is silly that making an American child develop unhealthy habits such as clearing his or her plate will do a starving child oversees any good, the fact does remain that Americans (and those living in many other developed countries) do indeed waste food at an alarming rate. In fact, according to some sources restaurants in the United Kingdom waste as much as 600 thousand tons of food a year, while the United States is believed to be wasting as much as 48 million tons a year. Sadly, little of this food is composted, with as much as 98% of it ending up in landfills.
Americans waste food at seemingly every turn. In our homes we throw away everything from sour milk to left over chinese. At the grocery stores they throw away anything that looks less than perfect, from bruised bananas to day-old bread. Restaurants are among the words offenders, throwing away vast amounts of food as waste from preparation (with almost no incidence of composting) and tossing out plates full of uneaten food from customers, the result of our obsession with huge portion sizes that are simply too large for most normal people to eat in a single sitting. In Europe this is an increasing problem in restaurants as portion sizes are starting to echo those mammoth supersizes in the U.S.
The Cost of Waste
This waste of food costs everyone in a variety of ways. It costs restaurants in that they spend more on food supplies than they really need to, given that so much of what they buy is going to waste. It also costs them money to dispose of the unused supplies – that is like being charged twice for the same mistake. The same is true of grocery stores.
All of this food waste also costs regular people in that prices, of course, increase to make up for this waste. And it costs us in damage to our environment as landfills spring up everywhere to hold our rotting waste. On top of this, it is simply sad to think that Americans live such a decadent lifestyle that we can throw away as much as a pound of food per person per day, enough to feed the majority of the starving people in our country, perhaps in the world.
Reducing Our Appetites
Obviously, the best way to deal with this issue is for each of us to become better consumers; this refers to business owners and consumers alike. We need to make better purchasing decisions, being careful to buy only what we can sell, use or eat within the period of time that the food is good. It means ensuring that our eyes are only as big as our stomachs, so we can consume what we order in restaurants. It also means demanding that restaurants provide an option for realistic meal sizes. And, it means making use of leftovers as snacks or ingredients in future meals.
Composting Our Way into the Future
Amazingly, only about 2% of food in the U.S. is composted, while more than 60% of yard waste is composted. Thus, in addition to trying to prevent waste, we must also look to manage the waste that we cannot seem to help but create. The best way to do this is through planning and composting. Restaurants and grocery stores, for example, can work with food banks and homeless shelters to donate certain unused foods, such as breads, fruits and vegetables. Then, everyone can start using compost bins to deal with many of the foods that we waste.
Once started, composting is a relatively painless endeavor. Simply putting the waste from fruits, vegetables and grains into a compost bin and providing minimal care for that bin can create a treasure trove of rich soil to be used in a variety of gardening efforts. Restaurants can compost right next to their trash bins, using the compost to fertilize their own land or donating it to community parks nearby. Similarly, people should work to compost in their homes, helping reduce the negative impact of all that food that we buy yet simply cannot eat.