Readers’ Responses: Curbing Food Waste to Improve Human and Environmental Health

In our February newsletter, we wrote about the environmental and humanitarian consequences of food waste. Worldwide, 30 to 40 percent of all food produced is either lost or wasted between the stages of production and consumption. We asked readers to send us their ideas on how to curb food waste, and we got many thoughtful and innovative responses.

Many readers responded to our February newsletter about how to reduce food waste. (Photo credit: Zero Waste Europe)

Some of our readers who own or work on farms wrote about their methods of recycling excess organic matter. Jan Steinman of Vancouver, Canada, wrote: “I live on a co-op farm, and nothing is wasted. We have a ‘three bucket’ system in the house. What people don’t want goes in the goat bucket, as appropriate (vegetable trimmings, etc.). If it isn’t suitable for the goats, it goes in the chicken bucket (moldy bread or cheese, cooked grains or legumes, etc.). Finally, if neither humans nor goats nor chickens will eat it, it goes into compost.”

Noting that many readers do not raise their own goats or chickens, Jan added, “If they go to a farmers market, they can surely find someone who will put their ‘waste’ to a higher use.”

For farmers who have more produce than they can sell or eat, organizations are cropping up to help get this food to hungry consumers. Peter Burkard wrote, “Here in Sarasota, Florida we have a food gleaning project run by Transition Sarasota which saves food from the fields that would otherwise go to waste and donates it to the local food bank.”

At the other end of the food supply-chain, many readers make use of food waste in their own backyards. John Davies of Nova Scotia, Canada, explained: “Our backyard compost pile takes in our waste veggie and fruit that we mix with grass and flower clippings plus autumn leaves. After a few months that pile becomes great compost, which means we don’t need to buy chemical fertilizer.”

Similarly, Fran DiDonato wrote, “We have backyard chickens and vermicompost in our basement, and feed all of our food scraps to the chickens and worms to get eggs and compost.”

Communities and municipalities are taking measures to reduce food waste as well. David Straus of New York shared: “Our county is considering purchasing a large grinder and establishing a county-wide food-composting program. The key is to charge for landfilling mixed waste but provide the opportunity to recycle/compost for free. Finished compost can be sold or given away to local gardeners and farmers.”

Across the world in India, Usha S. wrote about the role that governments can play in ensuring food security and distribution. “We have to change our ways of how food is produced first of all,” she argued. “In India, we think that decentralized planning is [needed] for ensuring food security, safe food, and to strengthen the production systems and make farming economically viable for the youth in the villages.”

And Selina Juul brought our attention to her Danish organization, Stop Wasting Food. Among the group’s innovations is a list of creative ways to define food waste. A few examples: “Food waste is merely using the amount stated in the recipe and throwing the rest away.… Food waste is pushing the older food to the back of the fridge or cupboard, and placing fresher food in front.” 

Björn Dahlroth pointed out that wasted food is just one consequence of an imperfect food system, and that curbing waste requires complex solutions. He noted that decreasing food waste in developing countries will not translate directly to increased food security and nourishment. Very much of the food that is destroyed in the world is actually destroyed in poor countries due to inadequate handling and storage,” he wrote.

Finally, Annabel Ascher of The Frugal Goddess offered: Food waste is a result of bad planning and misguided food procurement. It takes thought, planning, and work to eliminate food waste. But the results are worth it.”

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