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The big problem of wasting food

July 23, 2015

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Via flickr user petrr.

During his show “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday, HBO’s comedy news anchor John Oliver put the spotlight on a serious problem here in the United States: food waste. Despite the staggering statistics on hunger across the country, an incredible amount of food is getting thrown away.

The numbers are enormous. Forty percent of the food produced in the U.S. is never eaten. The reasons include throwing out “ugly fruit” that doesn’t meet supermarket standards and wasteful eating habits. It’s enough food to fill up 730 football stadiums.

That amount of waste takes up more than 20 percent of the country’s landfills, according to USA Today. Rotting food creates methane, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. It also accounts for 35 percent of freshwater consumption, 31 percent of cropland and 30 percent of fertilizer usage.

And it’s not just a problem here. French councilor Arash Derambarsh got the country’s government to ban its stores from destroying unsold food. Then, he set a goal to spread the issue across Europe, the Guardian reported earlier this month.

Food waste also carries a large economic toll. Oliver pointed out during his segment that Americans toss $165 billion worth of food annually. Of course, that’s as good as throwing money away.

As food waste gains more attention, however, people are responding to the problem across the country. It’s even brought out some creativity in the food world.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal looked at how some fine-dining restaurants are attempting to go waste-free with more sustainable kitchens. In March, Chef Dan Barber started wastED in New York City, a three-week attempt to demonstrate how delicious gourmet meals can be made from scraps and other materials that restaurants usually throw away.

Outside of the culinary world, cities have been trying to reduce food waste in landfills for some time. Back in 2011, WSJ reported that big cities like San Francisco, Seattle and even Los Angeles were taking big steps to recycle and compost. San Francisco even set up a goal to divert all waste from landfills by 2020.

There are also calls for supermarkets to be more responsible with the food they don’t sell. EndFoodWaste.org is currently promoting a petition for Walmart and Whole Foods to sell fruits and vegetables that are usually tossed out for cosmetic reasons. Some of the world’s top brands recently started a global effort to reduce the amount of food they waste.

There are a number of story ideas you can use to report on the problem, which works well for a mixture of money and sustainability reporting. Look for environmentally-friendly restaurants in your area and see what they’re doing to reduce their waste.

Are any local supermarkets taking steps to do the same? What are local governments doing to promote recycling, composting, and the reduction of food waste that would otherwise make it to the landfill?


John Oliver on food waste. (It’s HBO, so there’s some adult language.)


  • Rian Bosse

    Rian Bosse is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012 and worked for a small daily newspaper, the Daily Journal, in his hometown o...

    View all posts

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