Focus on Food Waste This Earth Day

Earth is getting hotter, hungrier and more crowded. By 2050, more than 9.7 billion people will demand twice as much food as we do today — food we do not have enough land, water and energy to produce. So to meet future needs, we’re going to have to get creative. That’s why World Wildlife Fund and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are working together to cut food waste and to recycle the waste we still produce.

Today, about one-third of food is lost or wasted. In developing countries, it’s often lost on the farm or in transit. In the United States and other developed countries, consumers shoulder more of the responsibility. In fact, the average person wastes a little more than one pound of food every day — adding up to about 400 pounds per year.

Why is it so important to prevent food waste at home?

First, when we waste food, we’re wasting the land, water and energy used to produce that food. If we waste milk, for example, we waste the land used to grow the cows’ feed, the water the cows drink and the fuel used to get that milk to our refrigerators. Second, if wasted food — or any organic waste — is left to rot in landfills, it emits powerful greenhouse gases that heat our planet.

As part of Sustainable America’s FoodPrint project, the Innovation Center is helping communicate these messages so we can all understand what wasting food really means and what we can do to use more of what our hard-earned money buys.

Dairy farmers are also taking opportunities to cut waste, starting on their farms. For example, WWF and the Innovation Center are working with farmers to promote environmentally beneficial ways to deal with livestock manure. Innovative solutions such as anaerobic digesters essentially large tanks that turn organic waste into methane — can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing energy, bedding, compost and even flower pots.

Together, the Environmental Protection Agency, WWF, the Innovation Center and a host of other agricultural and scientific organizations are promoting innovation in an area called nutrient recovery. Animal manure contains are a host of valuable nutrients to fertilize crops. By extracting the nutrients (and keeping them out of rivers, lakes and oceans), we can offset the need for other fertilizers that are either mined or made from fossil fuels and reduce the risk of water pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

On this Earth Day, we are celebrating these achievements and encourage everyone to pledge to reduce and recycle waste. By doing so, we can produce more food with less, alleviate the stress our appetites put on the planet, and ensure that all our neighbors have enough food to eat.

Sandra Vijn is the director of sustainable food for World Wildlife Fund in the United States.

National Dairy Council Dairy Good Sandra Vijn
Sandra Vijn, World Wildlife Fund