Posted on May 23, 2011 - by

Why Food Waste Matters

Photo: SecretFreegan at

In today’s guest post, Jonathan Bloom, author of the book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) shares his thoughts on why food waste is a problem for more than just your wallet. This post originally appeared on his blog,

Today, we also share tips on how to cut back on food waste in your kitchen, helping you to save money, simplify your kitchen, reduce your environmental impact, and make the most of the food you have on hand.

If you’ve ever thought about food waste, this thought has probably passed through your mind: Why do I even care?

Or maybe you’ve heard about wasted food’s ramifications before but find yourself in need of a refresher. In either case, it’s never a bad thing to consider why we shouldn’t squander food. So here goes:

There are environmental, ethical and economic reasons why food waste matters. The environmental implications of food waste alone make it worth avoiding. A massive amount of resources–mostly oil and water–go into producing our food. When we don’t use roughly 40 percent of it, we’re squandering those embedded resources.

In addition, when we send food to the landfill, its anaerobic rotting creates methane. That greenhouse gas is more than 20 times as potent at trapping heat as CO2. Given that and our staggering rate of waste, our food-filled landfills are steadily aiding climate change. Landfills are the number two source of human-related methane emissions. And while some landfills have systems in place to either destroy or harness the methane, they aren’t all that efficient.

From an ethical standpoint, it’s pretty simple. When you consider that 15 percent of U.S. homes are food insecure, throwing away food is morally callous. And no, the food you leave on your plate isn’t going to feed anyone (here or in a developing nation). But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t donate excess food instead of preparing too much. Or buy less food–to reduce the amount you’ll discard–and pass the savings along to your local food bank.

And finally, it doesn’t make much economic sense to throw away a good without using it. That holds true for individuals, families, institutions and government. Depending on spending habits, a family of four throws out between $1,300 and $2,200 a year. And on the whole, America squanders $160 billion annually. In both cases, it’s a waste of money that could better be spent elsewhere.

To be fair, we’re never going to completely eliminate food waste. There will always be some stuff that slips between the cracks. But for all three of the above reasons, we should strive to reduce the waste we do create. Do you care enough to make an effort?

Jonathan Bloom is the author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It). He writes the blog and his freelance work has appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, TimeOut New York, and other publications. He is also a certified barbeque judge.



We'd love to hear yours!

  1. Chris Dieter said:

    I believe that the standard design of fridges also plays into this wastefulness. Most fridges are as deep as the kitchen counter, but when you have a shelf over 12″ or so, items in the front block out those in the back. There are more shallow depth (cabinet style)designs out there, but more $$$.

  2. Cindy said:

    My cousins in Mexico thought it was horrible that we need to refrigerate everything. They use small ones that are big enough to hold things that spoil quickly like milk, cheese, cream, and a few leftovers. But then they have a fresh butcher shop on every corner.

  3. Pauline Thiessen said:

    Great article Jonathan. I would add info about the importance of composting for the (smaller) percentage of food that doesn’t make it to your tummy. Feed the soil that feeds us without producing trapped greenhouse gases.

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