FWDS: Impact on landfill-produced methane from reduced food waste

Number 3 in the Food Waste Disposal Series.

163px-ARS_red_onion[1]“Today, there is a renewed interest in the issues related to food loss, both domestically and internationally. For example, USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge on June 4, 2013, and the United Nations’ Environment Programme’s (UNEP) World Environment Day’s major theme in June 2013 was food waste. Some findings from the 1977 GAO report are still relevant today, given the resources used in the production of uneaten food, the negative externalities associated with food loss (e.g., pollution created during food production), and the growing pressures on the global food supply. … Therefore, it may become increasingly important to estimate the amount and value of food loss, including food waste, as a quantitative baseline for policymakers and the food industry to set targets and develop initiatives, legislation, or policies to minimize food waste, conserve resources, and improve human nutrition (Buzby and Hyman, 2012),” declare Jean C. Buzby, Hodan F. Wells and Jeffrey Hyman in The Estimated Amount, Value and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States document (Economic Information Bulletin Number 121) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Economic Research Service.1

The authors go on to define what is meant by “food loss” and “food waste.”

“Food loss,” according to Buzby, Wells and Hyman in the document is, after harvest, the portion of available edible food left uneaten no matter the reason,2 further explaining that “food waste,” as a food-loss component, is the uneaten food item itself.3

Meanwhile, the EPA, in its “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet – Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015,” report, finds that in the U.S., in 2013 before recycling, food accounted for 14.6 percent of all Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) being discarded, and for the same year after recycling and composting, wasted food totaled 21.1 percent of an aggregate 167 million tons of MSW.4 The 14.6 percent’s numerical equivalent is 37.0986 million tons of a total 254.1 million MSW tons.5

Additionally, it should be noted that in California, landfills are responsible for 21 percent of all methane (CH4) gas generated from all sources which, in the Golden State, totaled 39.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent units in 2014, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB), the ARB further relating “CH4 has a global warming potential of 25, indicating one gram of CH4 is equivalent to 25 grams of CO2 over a 100-year timeframe. CH4 is the second most important GHG in California, accounting for 9% of 2014 GHG emissions in CO2 equivalent units.”6

320px-Landfill_face[1]All of which is important because the less waste there is ending up in landfills, the less methane will be produced and released into the air as a result.

Not to fret as there is good news in this regard to report: According to the EPA, the rate of recycling went from under 10 percent of municipal solid waste generated in 1980 to 34.3 percent in 2013 while landfill disposal of such generated waste fell from 89 percent in 1980 to 52.8 percent in 2013.7

So, trying to eliminate as much refuse – food waste or otherwise – from the waste stream going to landfills is paramount.

In the fourth in the FWDS, looked at will be successful ways of reducing food waste.

Notes

  1. Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. The Estimated Amount, Value and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2014, p. 1. http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1282296/eib121.pdf
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet – Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, p. 6 and “Figure 5. Total MSW Generation (by material), 2013 – 254 Million Tons (before recycling)” and “Figure 7. Total MSW Discards (by material), 2013 – 167 Million Tons (after recycling and composting),” p. 7  https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/2013_advncng_smm_fs.pdf
  5. Ibid. “Figure 5. Total MSW Generation (by material), 2013 – 254 Million Tons (before recycling),” p. 7
  6. “Methane (CH4),” California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/inventory/background/ch4.htm
  7. “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet – Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sidebar section, p. 4 and “Figure 4. Management of MSW in the United States, 2013,” p. 5 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/2013_advncng_smm_fs.pdf

Upper image above: Stephen Ausmus, U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service

Lower image above: Ashley Felton

About Alan Kandel

Alan turned hardscrabble technology related experience into a professional writing gig and has never looked back. Alan resides in California's heartland - the San Joaquin Valley.

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