by Grayson Stuart | Nov 02, 2022
Food waste can happen all along the journey from the farm to your plate, and it continues in our homes and in restaurants when we purchase more food than we consume.
According to the non-profit organization ReFED, around 102 billion pounds of food are thrown away by businesses and farms every year in the United States, with Georgia contributing around 4% of that figure despite only housing 3% of the U.S. population.
In this blog post, we are going to explore the problems with how we handle our surplus food at all levels in Georgia and solutions that we have access to right now to help mitigate the environmental impact of our food waste.
We define food waste as any surplus food, food (both edible and inedible) that is not sold or consumed by businesses or individuals – food that isn’t donated, composted, or otherwise recycled. To gain a greater understanding of how food waste is generated, please see this previous blog post on Fighting Food Waste.
Globally, if food waste were measured as a country, it would be the world’s third largest polluter – after the United States and China – producing a whopping 8-10% of global emissions. This is due to the greenhouse gasses released throughout food production, processing, and distribution. Furthermore, when food waste ends up in landfills, it continues to produce greenhouse gas emissions as it decomposes.
In Georgia, approximately 4 billion pounds of food is wasted every year, contributing 8.33 megatons of our state’s carbon emissions. To put that in perspective, 8.33 megatons is equivalent to:
Although these figures can be hard to comprehend due to the sheer volume of food waste that is normalized in our economy, there are ways for all stakeholders in Georgia to help reduce the amount and impact of food waste.
Solutions to help us reduce food waste in Georgia are happening on three fronts: residential, commercial, and governmental.
It is estimated that around 37% of food waste occurs in the home, which for the U.S. as a whole measures up to 60 billion pounds of food annually (worth roughly $158B), but there are plenty of solutions available to the majority of Georgians to help reduce and divert their food waste:
Depending on your business as well as your location, solutions may vary. Below are some ideas that may work for you.
How to Reduce Food Waste in Food Production
Retaaza is a Georgia-based social enterprise that strives to make local and rural food more accessible and affordable, including connecting farmers’ surplus food to local consumers and families fighting food insecurity.
How to Reduce Waste in Businesses
Goodr, where I serve as the Sustainability Coordinator, is a Georgia-born sustainable food waste management company that leverages technology and logistics to combat hunger and food waste, offering recovery services for both edible and inedible surplus food for businesses.
CompostNow is a nonprofit organization that has been offering composting services for both commercial and residential customers in much of the Metro Atlanta area since 2017.
COR Compost provides composting services to both residential and commercial customers in the Savannah area.
Local and municipal governments can help reduce food waste by implementing composting programs and food recovery systems in places like schools, government offices, and in public hospitals and prisons.
In addition, governmental action is helpful in getting your community organized to prioritize reducing food waste. Some ideas for how that can work include:
Not only is food waste one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, but it is also directly responsible for many of the inequities we see in our food systems. In the United States, the poorest Americans spend 34% of their income on food, with food insecurity costing the country at least $160 billion annually due to healthcare spending, education services, and lost productivity.
Approximately 1 in 8 Georgians struggle with food insecurity, totaling 1,338,988 people, despite the abundance of food being thrown away. If we assume that two-thirds of Georgia’s 4 billion pounds of food waste is edible, Georgia has enough food to feed 1,894,732 people for a year, 42% greater than the amount of food insecure individuals, according to USDA data on annual food consumption.
We aren’t ready to declare a future with zero food waste, but we can make an impact that would benefit hundreds of thousands of Georgians positively. We’ll see both a socioeconomic and an environmental impact if we reduce 12% of our food waste through food donation annually:
Reducing our food waste by 12% can happen when we each make small or incremental improvements in our homes, businesses, and governments. Furthermore, each pound of food waste diverted from landfill prevents anywhere from 0.5-5 pounds of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Each of these changes add up, and over time will multiply like compounding interest, getting us to the sustainable future that we want for the next generation.
Check out the blog directly on Drawdown Georgia's site here: https://bit.ly/3sX2OlB
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