Food Waste Webinar

Monica McBride, who manages the World Wildlife Fund’s portfolio of food waste projects, spoke to the NNOCCI network about how food waste contributes to climate change. Monica introduced WWF’s work to us---how the organization uses science to work with companies and communities to meet the needs of people and nature, and that food production is a critical part of that work. 

Monica highlighted that food production is responsible for about 24% of all heat-trapping gas emissions worldwide, and contributes heavily to use of other natural resources like water and land. Heat-trapping gases are emitted throughout the life-cycle of food---most of them from soil management and from enteric fermentation, but also from fertilizer production, packaging, and transportation. Overall, each kilogram of food represents between 2 and 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide. For comparison, this is equivalent to the amount of energy the average US home uses, a the low end for 1.8 hrs, or at the high end, for 21 hrs*.

Monica then explained that about a third of all food is wasted---fruits and veggies are wasted at a rate of 45%, while dairy and meat closer to 20%. In total, this means of that 24% of total heat trapping gases we use for food, a third of it isn’t used; if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest heat-trapping gas emitter!

In the US, over 60% of this waste occurs by consumers. About 40% of this waste is at home and another 40% at retail organizations (like restaurants or hotels). Monica told us about the work WWF has done with the hotel industry to reduce waste with the philosophy “separate, measure, reduce, donate, divert.” They found that separating and tracking waste alone reduced waste by 5-15%, while training staff could reduce waste by 20-30% percent; larger efforts could result in 40% waste reducing. WWF is now working with restaurants on reduction. She mentioned some great resources on this work, resources for students, and for calculating what to order for big catered events that are listed below. 

Monica highlighted how many different solutions exist for us to work on. Increasing access to composting (because food waste in landfills releases an additional 0.5 kg of CO2 as it decomposes!), creating standard policies for food date labels (so we don’t toss food that is still good to eat), educating students about food waste, and working to avoid waste at home, in organizations, and in our communities are all critical parts of the solution. 

Resources Monica mentioned:

*Avg. US home uses 914 kWh / mo (https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=97&t=3) or 1.27 kWh per hour. At 7.07*10^-4 tonnes CO2/kWh (https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gases-equivalencies-calculator-calculations-and-references), this means each hour of electricity in a US home is about 0.89 kg CO2. 

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