Food Waste and its Links to Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Food loss and waste is estimated to be roughly one third of the food intended for human consumption in the United States. When food is discarded, all inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, and storing discarded food are also wasted. Food loss and waste also exacerbates the climate change crisis with its significant greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. Production, transportation, and handling of food generate significant Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions and when food ends up in landfills, it generates methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas.The connection between food loss and waste and climate change is increasingly recognized as important and so is the link between climate change and agriculture and supply chain resiliency.

We are increasingly seeing how extreme weather events are disruptive to both agriculture and supply chain resiliency.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report in 2021 on the environmental impacts of food waste (PDF, 12 MB). EPA estimated that each year, U.S. food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (million MTCO2e) GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. This estimate does not include the significant methane emissions from food waste rotting in landfills. EPA data show that food waste is the single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S., comprising 24 and 22 percent of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively. The report also highlights the benefits of preventing food loss and waste in terms of agricultural land, blue water (i.e., freshwater from surface water and groundwater), fertilizer, and energy.

Reducing and preventing food waste can increase food security, foster productivity and economic efficiency, promote resource and energy conservation, and address climate change, which in turn, could also decrease climate change-related shocks to the supply chain.

Ever wondered what really happens at the landfill sites?

Well, let me try to explain it to you.
So basically a landfill is an area where we dig a hole in the ground and fill it up with waste (by waste i mean the garbage that we throw out every night). To fill the hole up with waste usually takes years and years of collecting solid waste. The collected waste is not separated, all the organic and non organic wastes are kept together and decomposed.
Once organic wastes are decomposed they produce a very harmful greenhouse gas which is known as Methane. This gas is known to be 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and also because is a greenhouse gas we can say that it is partly responsible for global warming.
Not only do landfill produce a perfect environment for the production of Methane Gas, they also produce a chemical known as Leachate.
Leachate is a chemical that is produced when harmful chemical waste are decomposed together (Batteries, Medical waste,rubber for example). when the waste in the landfill gets decomposed and leachate is produce the soil beneath absorbs this chemical and contaminates the ground water supply.
When ground water is contaminated it can have serious health effects on us and can also be very harmful to wildlife.

Feeding Animals is the third tier of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. Farmers have been doing this for centuries. With proper and safe handling, anyone can donate food scraps to animals. Food scraps for animals can save farmers and companies money. It is often cheaper to feed animals food scraps rather than having them hauled to a landfill. Companies can also donate extra food to zoos or producers that make animal or pet food. There are many opportunities to feed animals, help the environment and reduce costs.

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