The Impact of Food Waste on Your Carbon Footprint

The Impact of Food Waste on Your Carbon FootprintThe amount of food wasted on a daily basis may not seem to be much, but cumulatively it can be alarming. The types of foods that we put on our plates can either dramatically enlarge or shrink our carbon footprint.

At larger end of the scale, a diet heavy with red meat generates the largest footprint and at the other end of the spectrum, a vegan or vegetable, fruit, fish, chicken diet generate the smallest carbon footprint. But not matter where you are on the diet spectrum, food waste unnecessarily expands your carbon footprint.

According to a recent article at, “In the United States, 31 percent of the food grown and raised – the equivalent of 133 billion pounds of food per year with a retail value in excess of $161 trillion, according to the USDA – is never eaten. Translation: Almost one-third of all of the bacon, tomatoes, apples, pasta, chicken, rice, and other foods you purchase is tossed into the trash.”

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Food waste varies by continent and culture. As in many things harmful to the environment, North America leads the pack overall and the split between consumer and retail waste is 60/40.

Food Waste: Around the World

As reported by the Fix, “It takes a considerable number of resources to produce the food we’re throwing away. In fact, getting food from farm to table accounts for 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounts for 80 percent of national freshwater consumption – not to mention all the fertilizers and pesticides used to produce conventional (non-organic) foods.

The USDA notes that most wasted food is sent directly to the landfill where it is a major producer of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.” As a greenhouse gas, methane is far more impactful to heat trapping than CO2.

Food Waste: Who's Wasting the Most?

The Fix make three noteworthy habit changing suggestions:

    Buy imperfect foods: Farmers often struggle to sell odd-shaped, undersized, or blemished produce, sending edible food straight to the landfill. The “ugly food” movement is gaining momentum, educating consumers about the importance of embracing less-than-perfect produce – which tastes just as delicious as picture perfect fruits and vegetables do – to keep it from being wasted. At the farmer’s market and the supermarket, let farmers and produce managers know that you’re happy to buy crooked carrots.

    Shop smart: Create a meal plan for the week and make a shopping list – then stick to it at the store. Impulse purchases often lead to food waste! Check the refrigerator before going shopping to keep from purchasing duplicate items. During meal planning, remember that some recipes will make enough food for multiple meals. Planning to eat leftovers (from meals cooked at home or ordered in restaurants) will help cut down on over-purchasing at the supermarket and keep leftovers from being wasted.

    Rethink expiration dates: It’s tempting to toss foods when their “best before” dates have passed. Despite their name, expiration labels are not meant to tell consumers when food is bad. Instead, manufacturers use these dates to indicate the quality of the food may degrade after the date. Give foods the “sniff test” to test for spoilage, or take a small bite; if a food smells or tastes bad, toss it. Remember, foods from crackers and canned soup to condiments and chocolate milk are often safe to eat even if their expiration dates have passed.

Basically, with a little weekly planning along with an appetite to eat leftovers one or two nights a week, most of us can make a serious dent in the amount of food waste hauled off to the local dump or incinerator. I can recall my school teacher parents rewarming leftovers on Friday night and again for Saturday lunch – honestly they were even more delicious the second time around.

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About the author

Eda North

Eda recently joined the Green Blizzard writing team and is our expert about how not to unknowingly expand your carbon footprint while gardening. With today's manicured lawn, dyed mulch, and highly fertilized gardens, our steams and waterways are choking with nitrogen and other chemical runoffs.