Food waste – the uneaten, spoiled or otherwise wasted food that’s thrown into the garbage – is a growing problem throughout the world and in central Ohio. Wasted food has social, environmental and economic ramifications.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly one-third – 133 billion pounds – of all food produced annually goes uneaten in the U.S. because of loss or waste. Further, each U.S. family of four spends an average of $1,400 each year on food that it won’t eat, whether at home or in restaurants.

Food waste is a growing problem in central Ohio, too. The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio estimates 12.8% of all material sent to the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill by residents and businesses is food waste. That equates to almost 1 million pounds of food waste each day.

The amount of food sent to the landfill each year in central Ohio also represents about 192 million wasted meals. This is staggering when you consider the Mid-Ohio Foodbank estimates 69 million meals are missed every year by residents who go hungry.

And when food is thrown away, it’s not the only thing that’s wasted. All the valuable resources, such as water, land and energy, that went into creating the food also are wasted.

SWACO estimates food wasted each year in central Ohio results in the waste of 41 billion gallons of water, 160,000 acres (roughly half the size of Franklin County) used to grow this food and the energy equivalent of 22 million gallons of fuel used to produce and transport the food.

The economic loss is significant. Franklin County spends more than $6 million each year to dispose of food waste in the landfill.

In order to reduce food waste in central Ohio and to leverage it in ways that benefit our region, SWACO is leading an effort, in collaboration with more than 60 organizations, called the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative.

The work of these organizations led us to release the Food Waste Action Plan on May 15. This plan will serve as a road map for efforts our region can take to reduce wasted food, and it also supports the national and global goal set by the U.N. and U.S. EPA to cut food waste in half over the next 11 years.

The Food Waste Action Plan is not a comprehensive document with all the answers. Instead, our intention is that it will complement the work of others, including the Columbus & Franklin County Local Food Action Plan.

The Food Waste Action Plan outlines three categories for focus: food-waste prevention, rescue and recycling.

In each category, the plan proposes a series of solutions and recommends these actions:

• Promote services and programs in our region.

• Support school curriculum and in-school diversion programs.

• Create a consumer-awareness education campaign.

Many activities to support these items are underway in central Ohio.

For residents and businesses interested in taking action, some options are available.

Numerous organizations, such as the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Food Rescue and other food pantries, will accept edible food waste and redistribute it to those in need.

Local food-waste composters have started collecting leftover food from businesses throughout the region and from residents at designated drop-off locations.

The Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative’s new website, cofwi.com, also has a wealth of information and tools, including instructions to get started with composting at home, tips to reduce food waste at home and when cooking for large groups, and food-scrap collection and composting services for businesses and residents.

To read the Food Waste Action Plan or to learn more about preventing food waste in central Ohio, go to cofwi.com or swaco.org.

Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. Questions about its operations can be directed to him at questions@swaco.org. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.