The Rising Tide of Food Waste
Food waste is the loss of edible food that occurs in the food production process between post harvest and end use. The vast majority of this waste is currently sent to the landfill. Food waste is a social, environmental, and economic issue that negatively impacts producers, retailers, consumers, and communities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food waste accounts for approximately 14 percent of the total municipal waste sent to landfills. Not only is this disposal expensive, it is harmful to the environment. When food waste decomposes in the landfill it creates methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly more to global warming than carbon dioxide.
Food waste is sent to the landfill for a variety of reasons, including: crop over production, damage due to transport, cosmetic imperfections, and excessive purchasing. Over 30 percent of the food available for consumption goes to the landfill. There is a significant opportunity to reduce waste and when you consider that over 14 percent of households in the U.S. were food insecure (not knowing where the next meal was coming from) in 2013.
Two opportunities stand out when discussing food waste: diverting food that is not purchased to where it is needed and diverting the remainder out of the landfill. The food recovery hierarchy (to the right) illustrates the preferred methods reducing food waste from top (most preferred) to bottom (least preferred).
To reduce food waste going to the landfill, the most preferred method is source reduction. For residential and businesses, this means do not buy what you will not use, saving money and preventing waste. The methods that are the most preferred get the most value out of food before turning it into compost or sending it to landfills.
The movement to reduce food waste is growing on a local and national level. In 2013, the EPA started the Food Recovery Challenge, giving individuals and organizations resources to reduce food waste. A number of cities and states have instituted organic waste bans, including: New York City, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland. In Omaha, several organizations are working to reduce the amount of food waste sent to the landfill:
- Food Bank for the Heartland, accepts and picks up food donations
- Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, promoting a regional vision (Heartland 2050) that reduces the amount of food waste going to landfill
- WeCompost, a residential and commercial food scrap composter
Recently, Douglas Country Environmental Services announced the idea of a pilot food waste composting operation food waste composting operation for local food waste. While the City of Omaha was not approved to use the landfill at 126th and State Street, the partnership is working to find another option.
What Can You Do?
There are several actions you can take to reduce food waste at home and at work:
- Buy only what you will use. Be conscious of what you purchase and what you waste. Prepare for shopping by making a list of what you need. If possible, log your food waste and look for repeat offenders over time.
- Be an advocate. Encourage your workplace to donate to local food banks if applicable. Food Bank for the Heartland picks up food weekly from retail locations and the Good Samaritan Act protects donating organizations by reducing liability.
- Buy local. Long-distance bulk food transportation often creates food waste. Buying local reduces this waste (and reduces emissions associated with transportation).
- After you have reduced or donated, divert. Once you have reduced most of your food waste or donated it to other uses, begin composting the food waste that still remains. If you have the space to do so at home, there is a variety of small scale composting options for your home. If you do not, WeCompost is currently the only company in Omaha picking up residential food waste.
- Let Verdis Group help. If your business or organization is interested in taking a critical look at reducing their waste stream, we offer consulting services to analyze current practices and advise on opportunities for reduction.
Food waste is one of the fastest growing types of waste we send to landfills. By being conservative with purchasing, advocating for food waste reduction, and improving food waste management, we can divert a major portion of the municipal waste stream and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
 EPA Municipal Waste  National Geographic food waste  USDA Food Security