Ron Krupp: Waste not

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Krupp, who is the author of “The Woodchuck Returns to Gardening.” It originally aired on Vermont Public Radio.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases on Earth.

Wasting food takes an environmental toll in terms of water, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, fuel and the land needed to grow it.

Globally, a year’s production of uneaten food uses as much water as the entire flow of the Volga, Europe’s largest river.

It’s estimated that a third of the planet’s food goes to waste — enough to feed two billion of the Earth’s current population of nearly seven and a half billion people.

And a scathing new report calculates that half of all the food produced in the U.S. alone goes to waste. Grocery stores including the largest chains throw nearly $50 billion worth of food into the garbage every year, while many households still struggle to put basic food on the table.

They report that more than 14 million pounds of food was lost annually from Vermont farms — enough to fill 7,000 pickup trucks.

 

Food loss also occurs on the farm when edible, quality food is neither sold nor donated and therefore goes uneaten. Salvation Farms of Morrisville undertook to study this problem and has just released the Vermont Food Loss Farms Study.

They report that more than 14 million pounds of food was lost annually from Vermont farms — enough to fill 7,000 pickup trucks. Of those 14 plus million pounds, 32 percent is unpicked – even though still edible. The top reason cited by nearly half of Vermont farmers for leaving crops in the field is because of blemishes.

With all the variables in farming, surplus is inevitable — but waste at this scale doesn’t have to be. Gleaning operations in Vermont are currently capturing nearly 5 percent of our farm food loss. Salvation Farms works with partners statewide to better capture and distribute this surplus to the many food shelves across the state.

I take surplus vegetables from my community garden plots to the Chittenden County Food Shelf. Collectively, we probably waste about 15 percent of the food grown at the community garden. And we probably also waste about 15 percent of the food we buy.

Anything I don’t eat is composted. But across the country, nearly all wasted food is dumped right into a landfill — with disastrous effects on the environment. Landfills are one of the biggest producers of methane gas, which in the long term is 80 times more climate-polluting than carbon dioxide.

Thankfully, a new state law banning wasted food from being sent to our Vermont landfills goes into effect next year.

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  • Steve Allen

    As a produce department manager for a locally owned family grocery store I would like to state the following. We provide off code and non-sellable food to the local food shelf or it goes to livestock feed or is composted. The produce industry has begun “ugly food” programs in stores to encourage consumers to purchase food that would otherwise go to waste. Unfortunately, the comments from consumers when asked if they would purchase less than perfect looking food do not coincide with the sales figures. My feeling is that greater focus needs to be placed on educating the end consumer.

    When I ask customers what they are going to do when the mandatory composting law goes into effect I get the deer in the headlights look or they say they will continue to throw it out and have no intention of starting to compost. Behavior modification through legislation does not work.

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