Americans throw away 40 percent of their food: NBC News
Mom was onto something. Americans are not cleaning their plates. Instead, they are tossing away 40 percent of their meals – “essentially every other piece of food that crosses our path” – or the equivalent of $2,275 a year for a family of four, according to a new report. Food waste has swelled by 50 percent since the 1970s in this country. A total $165 billion annually in leftovers gets trashed by homeowners and in unsold or unused perishables or scraps dumped by grocers or restaurants, according to research compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council released Tuesday. “Given the drought, rising food prices, and increased food demands we’re looking at as the population grows, having a more efficient food system is going to be a critical step – but also one of the lowest hanging fruit (in terms of a solution),” said Dana Gunders, the study’s author and a project scientist at NRDC, a nonprofit environmental group.“Everyone has a role to play in reducing food waste,” Gunders said. “This is just something that’s really flown under our radar. As a country, we just haven’t been thinking about this. But it’s one of the easiest things we can do to reduce our environmental footprint.”Ironically, the food squandering findings come just as a new Gallup poll shows that nearly one in five Americans say they haven’t had enough money to buy groceries on some days during the past 12 months. At the same time, a record drought baking half the country will help drive food prices 3 to 4 percent higher next year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Much of the waste is fueled by food companies and grocery chains that oversell and overstock. Also to blame are consumers who over-purchase - packing their shopping carts and refrigerators with far more than they need after being tempted by buy-one-get-one-free deals that often include short, shelf-life items like milk and produce, the NRDC reports. “Food companies are businesses just like any other, and so they want to sell as much of their product as possible,” Gunders said. “Where it’s different is that their product is sometimes perishable. So selling more of it in one go can lead to overbuying. But I also want to be careful about villianizing the food industry because I don’t think that’s fair.” An alliance of food industry leaders, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in 2011 announced a three-year initiative to cut the massive amount of food that Americans discard. The program aims to slash the quantity of food that winds up in landfills. Simultaneously, it would boost donations to groups that feed the hungry. The initiative is co-chaired by General Mills and Publix. “There is no bigger opportunity for our industry to simultaneously address hunger in America and our environmental footprint than by reducing the amount of food sent to landfills by diverting food to food banks and food waste to beneficial alternatives like compost,” said Ginny Smith, senior director of communications for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food-making companies such as Kraft, Hershey and Coca-Cola. The NRDC found that trimming waste in the U.S. food supply by only 15 percent would save enough edible goods to feed 25 million Americans annually. The NRDC said its conclusions are based on a review of existing literature – including a 2009 reportby the National Institutes of Health on U.S. caloric intake versus calories in the American food pipeline – as well as interviews with farmers and many people in the food industry. To begin attacking the problem, America could look to the United Kingdom which has launched several measures and campaigns to keep more of its food on the table and out of the trash, Gunders said. "We need to treat food a little bit differently when it comes non-perishables, and find other (kinds of retail) promotions," Gunders said. "In the U.K., some companies have been experimenting. Instead of using buy-one-get-one-free promotions, like for gallons of milk, you buy one and get another one free later, or they offer a buy-one-give-one, where you buy a food item and have the store donate another item of food to the needy." In investigating the scope of the food-waste problem in that country, British researchers have actually pawed through consumers' trash to gauge how much bread, bananas and butter is mashed into the discarded papers, bottles and cans. In the U.K. the government also has worked to standardize expiration dates on food and beverage products. Many British grocers have stopped including those dates - often merely a tool to help store clerks stock their shelves with the older products out front. Instead, they use codes to help organize their goods. And if dates are included, they are truly meant to reflect when the food item is no longer healthy to eat or drink. "In the United States, we see them as safety dates but they’re actually not safety dates. And these dates are not regulated federally for the most part," Gunders said. "They are meant to indicate the manufacturers’ suggestion for peak quality rather than anything that would indicate the food is actually going bad. So a lot of people just throw it out after that date, not understanding that."
studyBy Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor
Take 5 with Donny Addison
Donny AddisonManager, Auburn University Waste Reduction and Recycling Department
Donny Addison wasn't into recycling or environmental issues when he enrolled as a freshman business major at Auburn University in 2000, but as it happened, his apartment backed up to the City of Auburn's drop-off recycling center on Donahue Drive, and so he decided, "Why not?" Next thing he knew, he changed his major to environmental science and became actively involved in the Environmental Awareness Organization, a student group that focuses on supporting environmental and sustainability awareness on campus. Today, the now-adviser of that organization is in his sixth year as manager of the university's Waste Reduction and Recycling Department. As manager, he oversees the promotion, collection, sorting and marketing of all recycled materials on campus and manages several contracted services such as solid waste collection for the campus, solid waste and construction debris disposal, and confidential document shredding. Right now, his department is in the midst of revitalizing Auburn's campus building recycling program with a sorted recycling collection system. The system will put mixed-paper, desk-side recycling bins in most offices on campus as well as common-area sorted collection bins in every building. Meanwhile, Addison is taking his firm commitment to sustainability, recycling and environmental stewardship to the next level as a master's student in horticulture. His project involves recycling food and animal waste into usable product.
1. How big a problem is trash on the Auburn campus?
Auburn University is like a small town, and keeping the campus clean is a tremendous challenge, especially our parking lots and along some of the roads running through campus, and, of course, on game days. From October 2009 through September 2010, Auburn University generated 5,084 tons of trash. We recycled 549 tons of mixed paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminum cans and scrap metal, and we also recycled 1,981 tons for woody debris and construction materials such as bricks and concrete. With all those materials combined, we diverted 33 percent of Auburn's waste from the landfill. I feel that overall Auburn University does a good job of trash collection and disposal, but everyone on campus needs to become more aware of litter and do their part to pick up their own trash and littered items when they are on campus.
2. Speaking of game days, what do home football games mean for your department?
Home games are a full weekend for us. Every football Saturday, we place more than 200 recycling bins in tailgate areas around campus and another 100 inside the stadium and also have dumpsters for cardboard only at Jordan-Hare, for all the cardboard boxes from the concession stands and catering. We have student volunteers go around in bright yellow T-shirts, handing out trash and recycling bags to tailgaters, plus, we have our "Get Caught Recycling" program. How that works is, before each home game, we "catch" a fan in the act of recycling, and they get their picture on the jumbotron, their name announced in the stadium and a football signed by Coach Chizik. We also run a jumbotron ad during the game that encourages fans to use our trash and recycling bins throughout the stadium and tailgate areas and to "Keep Campus Clean & Green."
On Sunday morning after a game, our staff comes in and collects all the bins and bags of recycling, and we centralize them at the Food Services Warehouse on South Donahue Drive. At 1 p.m., 50-plus student volunteers come to the warehouse to help sort through the material. During the 2010 football season, we recycled 22.35 tons of bottles, cans and cardboard. This season, we're hoping to break 30 tons.
3. How has Auburn's recycling program evolved in recent years, and what changes can we expect to see in the coming weeks and months?
From 2005 till 2008, we used a single-stream recycling system on campus, which meant we collected all recyclables mixed together—plastics, paper, cans and cardboard—and sent the material to SP Recycling in Forest Park, Ga.When the economy tanked in 2008, the market for recyclables dropped drastically worldwide and SP could no longer afford to accept Auburn's materials, and that forced us to make some significant changes to the way we collected recycling on campus. We switched to a dual-stream system, in which the different materials are placed in separate bins making it possible to market the materials to local and regional companies. In 2009, the first full year of the transition, we generated $14,300 in revenue. In 2010, as the material prices recovered some, we generated $56,500. We got a lot better at selling our recycling. Right now, our goal is to get recycling bins in most of our core campus buildings by the end of spring semester 2012. Read more about the new recycling program here.
4. How is Auburn's Waste Reduction and Recycling Department funded?
We are base-funded by the state of Alabama, but we have successfully applied for four grants in the past four years totaling more than $160,000, and that has helped offset equipment, promotion and collection cost. Our recycling services are free for campus customers, but all solid waste services do come at a cost.
Most of our grant funding comes from the Alabama Recycling Grant Fund administered by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Two years ago, the university partnered with the City of Auburn, the City of Opelika and Lee County to form the East Alabama Recycling Partnership, which gave us more leverage in applying forthe ADEM Recycling Grant Fund, and in the past three years, the partnership has received three grants totaling more than $500,000.
5. In terms of waste and recycling, what's the most important message you want to send the rest of the Auburn campus?
There are two points I want to stress in terms of how we view waste. The first is waste reduction—things like using duplex printing, bringing your own reusable water bottle or coffee mug and only ordering what you need, and tracking what you don’t distribute so we can reduce waste on the front end.
But the second is, we all need to recycle, not just for environmental reasons but for economic and social reasons as well. In the Southeast, recycling is not as predominate as in other areas of the country and world, mostly because we have cheap landfill fees and limited access to material recovery facilities. We need to start viewing recycling not just as an environmental responsibility, but also a social responsibility because the recycling industry creates four jobsfor every one job created in the waste management industry. Education for program participants is huge. The Auburn University community needs to not only know what and how to recycle, but also understand how recycling impacts our society. If there is any time to start recycling, it's now.
No trees were harmed in the stating of this statement.
Last month, our fellow trees, our way of photosynthetic life, and our very freedom to provide both shade and a justification for leaf blowers came under a deliberate and premeditated attack.
As you know, an Alabama man allegedly poured herbicide around the oak trees in Toomer's Corner at Auburn University. The victims were 130 years old, beloved by all, a thread in the fabric of campus life. They are our brothers and sisters -- our monoecious and dioecious siblings, if you will -- and their apparent poisoning has filled us with disbelief, sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger.
This wanton act of unprovoked anti-arboreal aggression will not stand.
The attacks were in service of a hateful, rivalry-driven ideology. The threat of Roll Tideism is real. But make no mistake: It is not the way of trees. We are a peaceful lot. We are -- both literally and poetically -- giving. We provide shelter, kindling, an object to climb, a place for children's forts, raw material for building frames, props for professional wrestling, parquet floors for basketball, and fine paneling for both private jet interiors and ultra-posh locker rooms, both of which impress football recruits. And in return? We are deluged with man-made acid rain, hacked down with impunity in the Amazon and elsewhere, used and discarded at Christmas -- left to shrivel and rot, dusted with tinsel and broken dreams, on the world's curbs -- never consulted during global warming discussions -- hello? -- and appropriated for online lending endorsements without a single dime of compensation.
And now this.
For years, the brave oaks of Auburn suffered the indignity of being covered with toilet paper -- made from slain trees! -- following Auburn football victories. We did nothing. Said nothing. We are trees. We were pretty happy with the decline of newspapers and the rise of e-readers. But no longer. No more. Now, we rise. From this moment forward, we fight back with all of our might, with every resource at our disposal. Let the world hear us, loud and clear: The next time an acorn falls on your head, it won't be the result of gravity and bad timing. It will not be an accident.