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Food Waste and its Relationships to Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change and Other Issues
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Food Waste and its Relationships to Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change and Other Issues

Birds fly over a landfill


Jean Buzby is the USDA Food Loss and Waste Liaison.

Food and Nutrition
Health and Safety

Jan 24, 2022

Birds fly over a landfill

About one-third of all food intended for human consumption in America is lost or thrown away. All the inputs required to produce, transport, prepare, store, and process food are also thrown away when it is thrown out. The climate change crisis is exacerbated by food loss and waste. Producing, transporting, and handling food produce significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Food that ends up in landfills also generates methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

It is becoming more evident that climate change and food loss and environmental waste are interconnected. This is also true for the link between climate change, agriculture, and supply chain resilience. We are seeing more and more how extreme weather events can disrupt both agriculture as well as supply chain resilience.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), published a Report by 2021 on environmental impacts of food scrap (PDF, 12 MB). EPA estimated that each year, U.S. food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (million MTCO2e) GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. This estimate does NOT include methane from food waste that is left to rot in landfills. According to EPA data, food waste is the most common material that is landfilled or incinerated in the United States. It accounts for 24 and 22 percent, respectively, of the landfilled and combusted municipal waste. The report also highlights benefits of preventing food losses and waste in terms agricultural land, bluewater (i.e., freshwater form surface water), fertilizer, energy, and other resources.

Food waste reduction and prevention can increase food security, promote productivity and economic efficiency as well as resource and energy conservation. It could also reduce supply chain shocks related to climate change.

Continue reading Blogs on the topic of food waste and loss.

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