• Jonathan Bloom writes about why we waste food, why it matters and what we can do about it. This is his blog.

Blown Away by Waste Buffet

On Tuesday, I gave a talk at Keene State College in New Hampshire. In conjunction with the visit, the progressive folks of Keene State Dining created this amazing tableau of waste: 

image courtesy of Keene State Dining

Dining workers pulled untouched and nearly untouched breakfast and lunch items from the plate return and assembled a visually appealing, yet haunting “waste buffet.” The attractive display was part of the point. This was not just edible, but appealing food items. Accordingly, the staff covered the food to prevent any impulse eating (and comply with health code regulations).

The students I spoke with were uniformly surprised by what they had helped create. And a few even admitted that they found the sight disgusting. And with 49 million food insecure Americans, that is a sensible response. Indeed, it is absurd that this kind of waste is commonplace on college campuses.

I found the unsullied sandwiches and whole fruits especially striking. And while I can understand leaving behind some fries for health reasons, who takes a piece of pizza and doesn’t even take a bite?!? (Sigh.)

Here are a couple more images from this wonderful awareness exercise:

image courtesy of Keene State Dining


image courtesy of Keene State Dining

April 25, 2014 | Posted in College, Institutional | Comments closed

Documenting a Week of Waste

With their Waste in Focus project, the wonderful team of photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio are doing for waste what they did for food in Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

In the project, released last week and slated for an Earth Day exhibit in New York City’s Union Square, eight families of varying geography and backgrounds are depicted with one week of their trash. Menzel and D’Aluisio sorted and displayed the waste for the portraits to avoid altering behavior and facilitate comparison.

Charlene Wimms and Donell Brant of NYC, New York, with their children Darius Brant, 9, and Terrard Wimms, 16, surrounded by a week’s worth of their recyclables and landfill trash, in February. Recyclable items are on the left-hand side of the photo. Items destined for landfill are to the right. Their total household waste for this week was 28.9 lb. Seventy-nine percent of it (22.9 lb) was landfill and twenty-one percent of it was recyclables (6 lb).

As you can see throughout the eight photos, the families’ food waste sits on the right of each portrait (with other landfill trash), packed neatly into containers. While the clean containment of food scraps belies their unconfined environmental impact, it’s interesting to compare different families’ organic output. And on the whole, the project works wonders in raising awareness on our waste output. These images are powerful and will hopefully motivate us to reduce the amount of waste we create.

GLAD sponsored the project and provides the online forum for the beautiful, story-telling photos. The company is also a welcome addition to the coalition pushing composting forward in New York City.

April 15, 2014 | Posted in Environment, Household, Waste Stream | Comments closed

Putting a Price on Food Waste

The FAO Food Wastage Footprint project released their second video, and it’s a gem. This particular video focuses on trying to calculate the myriad costs of global food waste. Spoiler alert–it’s a lot of money! Nonetheless, the video makes for required viewing.

April 10, 2014 | Posted in Campaigns, International, Stats | Comments closed

Food for Thought

I just came across this recent EPA infographic on waste and particularly enjoyed this portion:

That 95% statistic comes from the EPA’s Municipal Solid Waste report, which shows that composting levels have doubled from 2008 to 2012. (It went from 2.3% to 4.8%.) While those low amounts enable such dramatic improvement, at least we’re improving!

I also like the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink part. That last ‘R’ is new to me, but it definitely works well with food waste. If we all rethink how we approach eating, we’ll likely waste less food.

April 4, 2014 | Posted in Campaigns, Environment, Household, Stats | Comments closed

Expect Big Changes with US Food Waste

There’s MAJOR NEWS in the battle against food waste–President Obama plans to issue an Executive Order making it illegal to throw away food. The Executive Order, helped forward by First Lady Michelle Obama’s urging, will amount to a de facto national ban on food waste.

Can you keep a secret?

An Obama administration official with knowledge of the plans said that the changes should occur in the coming weeks, once the showdown with Russia over Crimea dies down.

The ban will be part of a legacy-building effort by the Obama administration to impact climate change by dramatically reducing the amount of food that is wasted and ends up landfills. At present, food is the most common item sent to landfills, comprising 21 percent of the post-recycling waste stream.

In related news–Happy April Fools’ Day!

OK, so that national food waste ban isn’t actually happening–at least not yet! But wouldn’t that be nice?!  And there is plenty of movement on the subject, so perhaps the notion won’t be so far-fetched in a year or two. A guy can dream…

April 1, 2014 | Posted in Energy, Environment, General | Comments closed

Friday Fun

Food Wise Hong Kong was launched in 2012 by the (government) Environment Bureau with the task of reducing waste in a region with scant landfill space. To accomplish that goal, they’ve created the Don’t Be a Big Waster campaign.

While it’s hard to know exactly how to take it, the video and its content are pretty great:

OK, it’s not the catchiest song in the world. And that character, Big Waster, is a little confusing because he (it?) gives advice on avoiding waste while throwing away (or composting) food. Is he a good guy (thing?) or a villain?

And this line is a bit puzzling: “Why you order so much, man? Leftovers are such a waste! Yo! Yo!” But why not take those leftovers home?? I guess doggie bagging hasn’t fully taken off in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, we’ll chalk up the gratuitous double yo to cultural confusion.

Those quibbles aside, you have to marvel at the messaging (and sheer oddness) of Big Waster. BW is both a scold and a source of knowledge. He/it sure communicates a lot of information in a scant 30 seconds!

March 21, 2014 | Posted in Campaigns, International | Comments closed

Food Waste Doc to Debut

In very exciting news, yesterday saw the release of the trailer for the upcoming food waste documentary Just Eat It. The 75-minute film is finished and will start making the festival rounds next month.

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for the film and can be heard but not seen (probably for the best) in the trailer. The filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer, who previously made The Clean Bin Project, are both amazingly talented and friendly. As you can see from the trailer, the film is sure to both entertain and educate on food waste.

Just Eat It – A food waste story (Trailer)

March 19, 2014 | Posted in General | Comments closed

School Lunches Healthier, Just as Wasteful

Last week, a Harvard School of Public Health study exploring the impact of recent changes to school lunch came out with mixed news: students are eating more fruits and vegetables, but waste remains a problem.

After the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, new federal standards went into effect for the start of the 2012-2013 school year that increased the availability of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and dictated how much sodium and the kind of milk allowed. Additionally, students were required to take a fruit or vegetable.

image courtesy of TreeHugger.comAnecdotally, school staff said the stricter nutrition guidelines prompted more wasted food. To test that theory, the Harvard researchers conducted plate waste audits in Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 at elementary and middle schools in an urban, low-income area.

The results? Kids are eating more of their entrees (88%) and vegetables (41%) than before. This despite larger serving sizes for vegetables. Fruit consumption remained steady, despite the requirement that students take one piece (55%). That’s the wonderful news for our kids’ future health. 

The bad news: school food waste remains quite high–59 percent of vegetables are trashed! And more milk isn’t consumed, as students weren’t as excited about the shift to the non-flavored, skim or 1% versions.

While waste hasn’t increased, it remains a major issue. As the study concludes:

…the high levels of fruit and vegetable waste have been a continuous problem that warrants serious attention.

And that is how we end up with articles like “No Added Waste with New School Lunch Standards” that, way down toward the end, cite kids dumping 60 to 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruit.

March 12, 2014 | Posted in Institutional, Legislation, School, Stats | Comments closed

Living Better, Wasting Less

The Guardian normally keeps a keen eye on food waste. Starting this week, though, the UK newspaper has gone one step further by creating the Live Better Challenge.

image courtesy of The GuardianThe seven month editorial project will tackle a new sustainability topic each month. Encouragingly, food waste is up first, and that’s a boon for both home cooks and waste awareness.

Stop in for a spot of history and pull up a chair at the chef’s table for the entertaining piece by a very waste-conscious chef practicing “Root To Fruit” cooking. For starters, you can get ideas on what do with bread ends and learn about using odds and ends to make stock or ask the Dinner Doctor your own question.

Next, the hearty infographic will fill you up with food waste knowledge. And for dessert, try this entertaining and evolving piece by a writer trying to live off what’s in her fridge and pantry for a week.

After that full meal, you’re probably ready to take the challenge! Don’t forget to take a quiz to see whether you’re a “food warrior or food waster.”

Finally, in a tactic that hopefully continues, the site informs on food waste while retaining a drop of humor:

It’s a waste of our money, it’s bad for the environment – and the 86 million chickens that are thrown away without being eaten each year can’t be particularly chuffed about it either

March 4, 2014 | Posted in Household, International, Leftovers | Comments closed

New Numbers on US Food Waste

In case you missed Friday’s big news, the USDA released a new food waste study! Here are some of the key findings combined with corresponding analysis.

Finding: 31 percent of the available food supply at retail and consumer level were not eaten.

What it means:
Obviously, we’re wasting a lot of food! Yet, as the authors note on page 11, the total food waste is even greater because the 31 percent doesn’t include the abundant farm loss or waste between farm and retailer. So this recent finding jibes with the widely-used stat that we waste 40 percent of our food. In fact, it’s even more likely, given that this overall estimate represents an increase from the 29 percent in the 2012 USDA study and 27 percent figure in  the 1997 USDA report.

Finding: Twice as much waste occurs on the consumer level as on the retail level.

What it means: We, as individuals, are really wasteful! When it comes to cutting food waste, we’d all be well served by looking at the [person] in the mirror (R.I.P. Michael). Having said that, I do think retail food waste numbers tend to be underreported.

Finding:  The largest amount of food we waste (in dollars) is meat, poultry and fish.

What it means: This category represents 30 percent of our loss–Shame on us! If we’re going to condone the killing of animals to provide sustenance, the least we can is eat that animal protein.

Finding: 387 billion total calories are wasted every day!

What it means: There’s an extra 1,249 calories per person available every day. Now, some people need to decrease consumption rather than add calories. But there are still about 50 million food insecure Americans who’d certainly benefit from having more available food.

Other thoughts: The report has an impressive amount of discussion on the causes of food waste. For example, check out the handy Causes of Food Loss and Waste list on page 5. And there’s a nice bit of commentary on how food loss impacts food prices on page 7. Finally, there may be one bit of good news here: “added sugar and sweeteners” are among the most highly wasted food categories (measured by calories lost).


February 25, 2014 | Posted in Household, Stats | Comments closed
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