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Waste Not. Want Not. - November 6, 2016

                Thanksgiving is a holiday for families and friends to gather together and give thanks for what they have. It is known for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, football, and copious amounts of food. Almost every family has their own version of the traditional turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and other side dishes piled high on the family table on Thanksgiving. But what happens to all of the extra food after we have had our fill? Most families will use the extra food as leftovers, but whatever does not get eaten or stored tends to get thrown away. All of this wasted food ends up causing environmental problems, not just locally, but globally as well.

                Every day millions of Americans throw away tons of food, whether it is uneaten leftovers or rotten produce.  While some food items, like fruits and vegetables can be composted, most food items end up in landfills. Each year, an estimated 7 billion pounds of food are wasted and thrown away in America. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 32% of all food in the world is wasted. As all this excess food decays and breaks down in our landfills, it produces large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and major contributor to global climate change.  This large amount of excess food entering our landfills, and the subsequent greenhouse gas produced, is a serious issue. In addition to producing methane, thrown away food also wastes precious resources such as water and energy. Meats have a larger carbon footprint than fruits and veggies. By taking a few simple actions, we can avoid wasting so much valuable food and resources.

                The first way to avoid wasting food, and money on food, is to shop smart. Before going to the grocery store, check to see what you already have and what you need. Also, make a meal plan a week or two in advance. This way you can make a list of what ingredients you need, and in what quantities, so that you do not buy excess items that you might not end up using. Buying items in bulk can be useful; however, it can ultimately waste money if the food spoils before being eaten, so plan ahead. If you do end up with leftovers, make sure to store them in eco-friendly containers, made from recycled materials if possible, and always eat them before they spoil!

                 Be creative and outgoing when cooking and try to use every piece of the food if possible to reduce food from being thrown away. You can create a huge variety of soups, stocks and broths from unused bones, fish heads, or extra veggies. Make a stir fry of leftover vegetables or proteins. In general, cooking is a great activity for the whole family and can be a great teaching or learning opportunity for parents and children alike while providing some meaningful family time.

                Another way to send less food to our landfills, save money, and help the environment is to create or use community and backyard gardens. Community and back yard gardens give us the ability to make our own produce, which in turn decreases the amount of time we have to spend shopping and saves money on having to buy fruits and vegetables.

                Of course most produce is seasonal; however learning to pickle, preserve, freeze and can fresh fruits and vegetables from your garden insures a year round supply of jams, fruits, and veggies and is a lot cheaper than buying these items. If you have simply too much food from your garden to preserve it, then give it away! Family members, friends and neighbors will all appreciate free, fresh produce if offered, and if not, then local food banks, soup kitchens, or other such organizations will gladly accept donations. By doing this not only are you reducing the amount of food waste in our landfills, and therefore the amount of greenhouse gasses produced, but your also helping our community and giving food to those who might truly need it.

               If you already have a backyard or community garden, then consider the addition of a personal or community compost heap or bin. Composting is an easy practice to adopt and ultimately provides excellent soil for gardens, lawns or potted plants and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, which when over or misused can have a negative effect on water quality. Over 60 million tons of produce, worth $160 billion, are thrown away each year and left rotting in landfills. By composting items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and other produce waste you can keep them out of the landfills and reduce the subsequent methane emissions. You can also compost yard waste like grass clippings and dead leaves instead of bagging them and throwing them out, saving some considerable time and effort.

                The production, distribution, use, and disposal of food and food products is an extremely complex and multifaceted issue that is not going to go away anytime soon. By taking a few simple actions now, we can save money and reduce the amount of food waste entering landfills, while creating a healthier local and global community.

 

Harrison Jackson is the former Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 

 



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