The US Department of Agriculture estimates Americans throw away the equivalent of about $162 billion in food each year
When was the last time you threw away food ’cause, well, you couldn’t finish it? Or left a hefty few slithers of rice and a small piece of meat on your plate for the waiter to take away as you went running for dessert? At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when the majority of people on the planet do it, you get tons of good food waste every year.
In fact, the US Department of Agriculture estimates Americans throw away the equivalent of about $162 billion in food each year at the retail and consumer levels — much of it, I presume, attributable to tossing perfectly good food. I’ve seen fast food restaurants mess up an order, only to take back a perfectly made sandwich and toss it in the trash. I’ve seen waiters in hotels and fine-dine restaurants take half-eaten meals and throw them away. It makes sense — after all, what else are you supposed to do in the fast-paced business-centered world?
This isn’t only economically upsetting, but it is also a testament to our lack of humanity and consideration in the wake of real social issues like the hunger crisis in impoverished regions around the world. If we want our world to be sustainable, we ought to be more courteous thinkers when it comes to simple things like food.
Now the sad part is, you can’t really tackle this issue from the core, without people making change at an individual level. And most people are fairly resistant to change unless it’s imposed on them. So, putting the ‘individual change’ issue aside for another day, let’s consider what sort of changes can be made about the food wastage pandemic at a more systemic level.
Komal Ahmad, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, founded a phenomenal initiative called Copia. Using an innovative app, registered “food heroes” can pick up leftover food from various donors (who have leftover, perfectly good food) and deliver it to nearby shelters to help those in need. The donors save money through tax deductibles and reduced disposal costs, and the recipients get food that would otherwise end up in a landfill. This is an example of us going back to our roots, emulating the natural process of symbiosis exemplified by nature. We ought to do more of that in the increasingly individualistic western world.
Another initiative that merits mention is Bakeys, which sells special spoons in India. A lot of people, as a product of their laziness, end up disposing of plastic cutlery as opposed to recycling it as it should be, and this needlessly builds landfill waste. Bakeys solves that in a sweep, by making the spoons functional and edible!
Such start-up initiatives deserve more attention. Copia and Bakeys are just two examples of initiatives aimed at tackling current sustainability issues and striving to bring the environment and economy together. They shed light on the need for change at a systemic level.
Eventually, the influence of sustainability through systemic change will trickle into the average household and business, which together make up a large part of the waste we see today. If this need isn’t sustainably addressed, you might as well consider the food industry a time bomb.