According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 133 billion tons of food is wasted every year. The USDA says Americans throw away more than 20 pounds of food per person every month, and it’s estimated that on average an American throws away 40 percent of fresh fish, 23 percent of eggs and 20 percent of milk.
“It’s not in anyone’s interest to buy $100 worth of groceries at the grocery store, eat $75 worth of it and then throw the rest away,” said Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert.
In 2017, New Jersey passed a law establishing a food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030. The law requires the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a plan with public input to accomplish the goal.
“We know that 11 percent of New Jersey population is food insecure,” said Scott Brubaker, deputy director for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “And not only is the food wasted, but all the resources that went into producing that food.”
As part of the DEP’s effort to address climate change, the agency co-hosted a workshop for the restaurant industry at Princeton University to introduce ways they can become more sustainable. The DEP says part of the problem is that consumers are confused about food labels and have unrealistic ideas about how long food will last.
“Most of those labels have nothing to do with the safety to eat that food there. It’s simply the manufacturer’s statement of when that food is best purchased by,” said Brubaker. “So people end up throwing out perfectly good food.”
One way for people to recycle food waste is by using a compost bin. They can discard only food and liquids in either paper bags or special biodegradable garbage bags so it can be repurposed instead of being sent to a landfill with trash.
“When the food waste is in the trash we’re paying $195 per ton to throw it away. Meanwhile it goes to a landfill where as it decomposes it releases methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas that leads to climate change,” said Lempert.
John McConaughy owns the Double Brook Farm where his farm-to-table business practices a type of composting method in order to feed farm animals and grow food.
“It’s a type of ferment compost where they take the food, they grind it, they ferment it, and the end result is food for the animals and fertilizer,” said McConaughy.
The DEP says the best way to reduce food waste is by practicing these tips in your own home; plan your meals accordingly so you don’t ever over buy; rotate the materials you have in your refrigerator so they don’t go bad; prepare only what you will eat; enjoy leftovers; and if you have a party, try to send extra food home with guests so it doesn’t get wasted.
Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim, III.