US Grapples with Mounting Food Waste Issue and Climate Impact

by Ella

A significant portion of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten, with more than one-third of it ending up in landfills. The consequence of this wastage is the generation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change. In response to this growing problem, over 50 local officials recently joined forces to urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action against food waste within their communities.

This plea comes in the wake of two recent EPA reports that shed light on the scale of America’s food waste issue and its environmental ramifications. The local officials have called upon the EPA to expand grant funding and provide technical support for alternatives to landfills. Additionally, they have urged the agency to revise landfill standards, with a focus on improving methane emissions prevention, detection, and reduction, acknowledging that such measures are challenging due to the rapid generation of methane from decomposing food waste.


Addressing food waste is an ongoing challenge in the United States. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA set a target of halving food waste by 2030. Unfortunately, progress toward this goal has been slow, according to Claudia Fabiano, an EPA specialist in food waste management, who acknowledged, “We’ve got a long way to go.”


Methane emissions from landfills have a significant environmental impact, as methane is responsible for approximately 25% of global warming and possesses a greater warming potential than carbon dioxide. The EPA reports underscore the pressing need for action and reveal that 58% of methane emissions from landfills stem from food waste.


To combat this problem effectively, researchers and elected leaders emphasize the importance of not only investing resources but also fostering a fundamental shift in public attitudes and behaviors. This transformation may require adjustments in farming practices, alterations in food packaging and marketing by manufacturers, and concerted efforts by individuals to reduce food waste.


In response to the food waste crisis, the EPA has updated its list of preferred waste reduction strategies for the first time since the 1990s. These strategies range from the prevention of food waste (by not producing or purchasing excess food) to composting and anaerobic digestion, a process that converts food waste into biogas. Prevention remains the top strategy, but the revised ranking offers more nuanced guidance, allowing communities to tailor their approach to waste reduction.

However, addressing food waste requires a profound shift in mindset and lifestyle, particularly among households, which are responsible for at least 40% of food waste in the U.S. Changing the expectation of abundance at grocery stores and on plates is a formidable task.

Weslynne Ashton, a professor of environmental management and sustainability, believes it is possible to eliminate organic waste from landfills, but this requires the development of infrastructure and incentives for both households and commercial institutions in various locations.

The question remains: Will communities and states receive the federal assistance and guidance needed to enact meaningful change? While some local governments, such as California, have already taken action by requiring organic waste collection services, others are just beginning to address the issue.

Ning Ai, an associate professor of urban planning and policy, emphasized the need for more specific information on how different communities can adopt localized solutions to prevent food waste. She commended the EPA for its rigorous documentation of trade-offs between environmental impacts, a crucial aspect often overlooked.

The reports from the EPA have bolstered the national momentum to combat food waste, signaling that there is an urgent need for action to reduce waste and mitigate its environmental consequences.



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