From Waste to Resources: Discarded food has economic, environmental and social costs

TY MARSH
ThisWeekNEWS.com

Do you sometimes make too much food and discard the extra in the garbage disposal?  

Do you ever buy fruits and vegetables, only to let them rot in the crisper?  

Do you have expired food items in your refrigerator or pantry?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’re not alone.

Ty Marsh

Most of us are guilty of wasting food. In fact, the average family of four wastes about $1,500 worth of food each year. Discarded food now makes up 15% of the material in the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill, more than any other category.

But have you ever thought what else we waste when food is wasted? It costs a lot in terms of its economic, environmental and social impacts.

For starters, wasted food has an economic impact.

Wasted food costs central Ohio an estimated $400 million a year. This includes the money spent on food that gets thrown away and the costs incurred to send food waste to the landfill. It also includes the costs to grow, produce and distribute food that never gets eaten.

Beyond the economics, our environment pays a price when food is wasted. 

Every year, 160,000 acres (about half the size of Franklin County), 41 billion gallons of water (more than the amount that flows over Niagara Falls in a month) and 22 million gallons of gas (enough to fuel 44,000 vehicles for a year) are used in the production and distribution of food in central Ohio that ultimately goes to waste.

Wasted food also means wasted opportunity to help food insecure people in central Ohio.

We’re throwing away food that could have been rescued and redistributed to people in need. Restaurants and other food-service businesses, in particular, often have extra nonperishable food and unspoiled perishable food that could be donated to food banks, food pantries and shelters rather than thrown in the garbage. That food could reduce the number of people in our community who go hungry each day.

Clearly, if we can reduce food waste, we can save a lot more than food. We can save money on food we buy but don’t eat. We can save the land, water, energy and other resources used to grow and distribute the food. We can help save people from going hungry and we can help save our environment, too.

This idea is the impetus behind SWACO’s new education campaign, “Save More Than Food.”

The campaign, which launched Sept. 15 in coordination with several public and private partners, is meant to create awareness about food waste in our community, encourage behavior changes and connect families, schools, restaurants and other businesses with valuable information and resources.

We will use social media, radio ads, public-service announcements, flyers and posters to spread the message that reducing food waste saves precious natural resources, helps the environment and helps solve hunger issues in the community.

We’re counting on the campaign to help central Ohio cut food waste in half by 2030.

I encourage you to go to savemorethanfood.org to learn what you can do to decrease food waste in your home.

The site includes information and statistics about food waste and links to resources, tips and suggestions for reducing food waste at home, at school and at work. It also provides the option to sign up for our new newsletter, which will focus on food-waste reduction and prevention and showcase people and businesses who have implemented successful programs.

The SWACO team put a lot of time, thought and hard work into the "Save More Than Food" campaign. We’re really excited to roll it out and give members of our community the information, tools and encouragement needed to reduce food waste.

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