Food waste is an issue that cannot be ignored as it accounts for over 10% of what we throw in the landfill. The common misnomer that I regularly hear is that it doesn’t matter since it will just biodegrade anyway, but this could not be further from the truth. Landfills are specifically designed to not let any of the waste breakdown to avoid the potential contamination of the adjacent lands, water, and air. So how can we, both manufacturers and consumers, have an impact and alleviate this problem? It’s as simple as following the age-old moniker that we all know—reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Now, I completely understand that I am oversimplifying things, but sometimes that is the best way to look for potential solutions to problems. The first step to diverting food waste from the landfill is to simply reduce the amount of food waste that is generated. For both consumers and manufacturers, this can be done by conducting an informal waste audit, in other words, looking at the trash before you throw it in the dumpster. At a minimum, make a mental note of the food waste being thrown away then look back at the path it took to get there. For us consumers, this is usually fairly simple since it is something we brought home from the grocery store and either didn’t eat all of it or let it go bad. For manufacturers, this can be a little more difficult since you need to look back through the entire process that each particular food went through. Doing this can be very beneficial because by documenting your waste habits, you may very well be able to adjust your purchasing habits accordingly and reduce the amount of food waste you are generating as well as increase your bottom line.
As we all know, sometimes generating waste is unavoidable, so we must look at what we can do to prevent it from simply ending up in the trash. When it comes to food waste, reusing and recycling are fairly synonymous and can require some creative thinking. For the consumer, some options to look into are donating to local food pantries/shelters, reusing as animal feed, and composting. Many times, there may even be local resources available to aid you in these options. For the manufacturer, the above options are all available and there is another option that is gaining popularity—using food waste as feedstock or fuel for another process. While this option may not be feasible for all food manufacturers and requires some significant capital investment, in the long run it can improve the overall efficiency of the operation and save on future energy costs.
By looking at your waste streams from a different perspective, whether it be at home or at the factory, you can identify very simple ways to make a significant impact. For a business, reducing or eliminating waste is beneficial to the bottom line as well as to your image of being a sustainable organization. If consumers and manufacturers can both make advances to reduce food waste, the combined efforts can also lead to a more sustainable environment.
Iowa Waste Reduction Center
University of Northern Iowa