What if you could face a fine for letting a bunch of bananas rot, or pouring out that last sip of beer—or what if throwing out a half-eaten sandwich could land you in jail? Sounds absurd, like the mandates of an oppressive regime, right?
Food waste is becoming a major concern around the globe as it's estimated that approximately 1.3 billion tons of perfectly edible food items go uneaten every year. From the perishables like meat, eggs and dairy to fruits and vegetables and prepared meals to shelf stable foods that expire, the numbers are startling: as much as half of the food in the U.S. and other developed countries gets thrown away each year. With millions of Americans considered food insecure, this number is far too disturbing.
Recent initiatives in Massachusetts could make it the first state to ban certain businesses from sending food waste to landfills including hospitals, large restaurants, hotels, universities and other large businesses in the state. Instead, they'd be encouraged to use it more wisely, and participate in programs such as composting or donating edible food to food banks.
While it would seem incredibly easy to route foods to shelters and soup kitchens before it becomes unsellable, it's not often the case. Retailers are most often credited by manufacturers when foods spoil, and since it's easier to just toss food into the dumpster than coordinate a delivery or pick up with a food bank, much of it ends up in landfills.
Corporate red tape at retail chains like Trader Joe's has also made it increasingly more difficult for food banks and other organizations to take near-expired food to hungry people.
Packaged foods are even to blame for wasted food. If you've ever struggled to get the very last bits of peanut butter out of a jar, you can imagine the magnitude of waste food packaging creates each year.
While technology continues to improve food systems (like RFID chips and GPS tracking systems that can help retailers avoid spoils), there's an increasing financial incentive for the food industry to look to avoiding food waste. "Entrepreneurs and innovators who figure out how to tap into the huge reservoir of wasted food will find savings for themselves, their customers, and the planet as a whole," says Dana Gunders, a Project Scientist with the National Resources Defense Council.
So while it's still perfectly legal to waste food, we could see stricter policies enacted by local governments like Massachusetts is aiming to do, and we could also see innovations at the retail and restaurant levels as well.
Want to decrease your food waste? Try the following ideas:
1. Buy ingredients, not meals: A carrot is much more useful than that carton of carrot soup you're sick of. Ingredients make it easier to prepare meals as needed.
2. Freeze: Fruits, veggies, animal products, even cooked pasta or rice can be frozen for use at a later time.
3. Share: Bring extras to work, invite friends over for leftover parties or take extra foods to a shelter.
4. Start with less: You're less likely to throw out any food if you make less to begin with. If you're still hungry, make more, but avoid the waste!
5. Compost: Turn your food scraps into more food by composting and replenishing your gardens with food waste.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger