The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates Americans wasted nearly 40,000 tons of food in 2015, with more than 30,000 tons going to landfills and 7,380 tons used in combustion toward energy recovery, while a meager 2,100 tons was composted.

Aptly, many individuals and groups are angry.

The money, time, effort, water and energy used to produce food that ultimately ends up congesting landfills and releasing methane gas, which further damages the environment, is a vicious cycle that negatively affects all of us and will require multiple interventions to correct and reverse. The overarching problem is also ethically charged.

While so much food is wasted, rates of individuals who report food insecurity and hunger continue to climb, which makes reducing food waste a social, economic and environmental priority. Reducing food waste is an effort everyone can address and support, and it will take that collaboration and momentum at many levels to change our ways.

Where do we start? Understanding the levels of influence on the problem, and how your role as an individual, group member or leader of a business or organization can reduce waste is a critical foundation.

Policy-level decision makers at the EPA, USDA and the FDA developed a strategic plan in 2015-16 to reduce food waste, stressing the importance of increased research, community investments, education and outreach, voluntary programs, public-private partnerships, tool development, technical assistance, event participation and policy discussion. Local policy makers need to educate themselves on the best practices to inform productive channels for change, and promote and support action among their constituents.

Businesses and organizational-level influencers can find action items and resources at the U.S. Food Loss and Waste Champions 2030 website at https://www.epa.gov/reducefoodwaste/united-states-food-loss-and-waste-2030-champions. The information and strategies provide research-based guidance that can be tailored to businesses, and the site promotes champions of the movement. Your business, school, workplace, community organization, place of worship or other group can use tools such as these to make effective, sustainable changes without reinventing the wheel. A common reason businesses hesitate to donate food, for example, is concern over liability. There are laws in place to protect donors, however, and local food pantries regularly train to provide safe and healthy foods. Donate to local pantries.

Family and individual level members can learn more to thwart key causes of food waste: over purchasing; confusion about dating labels on foods; and improper utilization of food scraps and leftovers. The FoodWIse program provides workshops and resources on meal-planning, shopping, food-prep, recipes, and proper storage to save money and reduce food waste while increasing nutrients for families. Additional research-based resources can be found at https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/danefoodsystem/files/2018/12/Food-Waste-and-Recovery-Guide-for-Madison-and-Dane-County-FINAL-for-web.pdf.

Community level members can learn more and get involved. Kenosha County Extension, local food recovery and emergency food distribution agencies, and local businesses already have a robust network moving forward to keep donated food local, reduce the overall cost of food recovery and feed people in need of emergency assistance in an equitable way.

To learn more, contact the Kenosha County Extension office, or the extension’s FoodWIse nutrition education program.

Terri Ward serves as the FoodWise Nutrition administrator for the UW-Extension offices in Kenosha and Racine counties.

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