Rethinking Food Waste

Dec 11, 2011 by Rachel Harvey | Story Popularity: 17

In Hawaii, we celebrate just about everything with food, delicious dishes often accompanied by heaping servings of rice. Yumm-O!

As much as I love to cook and to eat, it is a hard fact to swallow how much food we waste, not to mention all the resources required to produce that wasted food. However, reassessing our habits with food and food waste can make for household savings, benefits to health, and reduce what we send for municipal disposal.

According to researchers for NRDC, “an average family of four in the U.S. throws away $175 of food per month. In fact, around 40% of edible food (not counting peels, bones, etc) in the U.S. gets thrown away.

Consider the following estimates of resources dedicated to food that never gets eaten:
25% of all freshwater
4% of all US oil consumption
$90 billion in losses to the US economy (over $40 billion from households)
$750 million a year just to dispose of the food
31 million tons of landfill waste.”

This food waste takes up space in our dumpsters and landfills. Across the U.S., food scraps are approximately 14% of the household waste we discard. On Oahu, a 2006 City study showed that approximately 15% of trash delivered to HPOWER is food waste.

As another NRDC researcher reports, “food waste is of concern to environmental agencies and municipalities because in landfills food waste is a primary cause of methane gas emissions, a very potent greenhouse gas.” Additionally, when food is sent to the incinerator at HPOWER, it becomes “a cause of nitrogen oxide emissions, which is also a greenhouse gas…Moreover, since food waste can contain as much as 70% water, it is not a high Btu fuel, and therefore is not well-suited for combustion,” especially when you are trying to create energy.

To change the impact of food waste on our monthly bills and our municipal waste steam, there are a number of solutions to consider.

For one, as you are assessing your trash output this week, take a closer look at food waste, including that serving of rice you tossed out after a take-out lunch. How much of this type of waste was (at one point) edible, not trimmings and peels? How can you reduce food waste at the source by reassessing your grocery buying, cooking, and eating out strategies? We’d love to hear your ideas below or in a journal post.

Second, a great option for disposing and repurposing food waste is at-home composting. Composting turns your food waste into black gold for your garden and reduces what you send to the dumpster.

I admit it. I was once a skeptic about composting in my crowded, apartment filled, bug and lizard populated part of Hawaii. But the process has actually been easy, not smelly at all, and rewarding. Composting has significantly reduced how often we take out the trash and eliminated most trash can odors.

Inspired to learn about composting? There are multiple compost how-to journals on the Kanu website. Try these for starters!

Start a Compost Bin - Yes, you can! by Kasha Ho
Compost Pile Surprise! by Cathy Kawano-Ching
Easy Composting System by Tyler Mongan
What to do with whole food starting to go bad? by Olin Lagon

Now, make a commitment here: I will compost my family's food waste.



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  1. Brilana S. says:

    I've started to assess my leftovers in the fridge. What would normally sit for days, dare I say weeks, and then tossed in the trash is getting a new life in a different meal (and not sitting for weeks). For example, homemade cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving was turned into a cranberry crunch bar. Bones from a rotisserie chicken and leftover rice was turned into soup with the addition of some veggies laying around in the crisper drawer. My best resource for getting recipe ideas is from allrecipes.com. You can input a specific ingredient (chicken carcass, cranberry sauce), and at least a handfull of recipes will pop up, giving you the inspiration you need to breathe new life into that leftover.

    PS. The chicken/veggie/rice soup did wonders for my sore throat!

    • That is awesome! Soup is always a good place for leftovers to get new life.

  2. jen russo says:

    yes re-use re-imagine those leftovers. When it cannot be consumed any more we feed our chickens and ducks leftovers.

  3. jan elliott says:

    Chickens are very handy partners when it comes to recycling extra food waste. I send almost everything to my chicken coop, except actual chicken itself. Not that they won't eat it, it just seems a little creepy :)
    A couple of times a year, we dig out the coop and throw the resulting compost under the fruit trees or dig it into a vegetable garden. Organic fertilizer for free! Not to mention the most delicious eggs. I recommend chickens to everyone, unless you live in apartment or have grumpy neighbors. A few chickens provide eggs, fertilizer, compost, and more entertainment
    than TV!!

  4. Olin Lagon says:

    As much as we try, we still end up composting food :-( especially if we load up on fresh veggies. Thanks for linking to my what to do with rotting food journal. It really has been amazing to see rotten foods end up growing and giving back much more than what rotted in the first place. Our yard is in a constant state of brining back to life some old produce :-)

  5. I have a couple pigs that live next-door (no I'm not criticizing my neighbors, they are actual pigs.) They do a great job on my food scrapes and waste. Even pineapple rind they love. It has greatly reduced my trash load. So, look around the neighborhood maybe you can find some four legged friends to help? :)

    • Olin Lagon says:

      I haven't tried raising chicken yet but I heard they are also really good at clearing out food scraps.

  6. Annie Koh says:

    Fried rice is a great way to use up little bits of anything!

    As for animal helpers, I heard a hilarious story from a community stalwart who got a rabbit to help him work through his MA'O CSA box. Turns out the rabbit only wanted the sassy greens, and none of the carrot tops or parsnips.

    • Olin Lagon says:

      Fried rice is a great tip! Another one is to get honest about what you are and aren't going to eat and consider freezing the rest for later. Milk is another one. Instead of tossing out milk just about ready to transform into another food form, freeze it then make banana pancakes with it even months later.

    • I put all my going bad fruit in the freezer too for smoothies or bread making. This generally means we have a giant collection of frozen rotten bananas for any poor soul who opens our freezer to laugh at. But they will come in handy some day!

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