Save money on groceries and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time

Reducing food waste can save consumers money and help Oregon meet its climate goals– now that’s what we call a double win!

From organic agriculture to compost, Oregon has often been ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting climate-friendly food policies and practices. The Oregon Climate Action Plan (EO 20-04) builds on this past leadership by creating programs that ensure that the labor, resources, and energy required to grow, transport, package and cook food do not go to waste.

It may come as a surprise, but food waste is responsible for at least 2.6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States—the equivalent of more than 37 million cars on the road. It has been estimated that if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China. Thankfully, each of us has the ability to make changes to cut down on our personal food wasteall while saving money and reducing our carbon footprint. But new systems will also need to be put in place to maximize these savings. 

The environmental and climate impact of unused food is twofold. The first relates to the frontend of the supply chain: the energy, resources and emissions expended–and ultimately wasted–as a result of food production. Food production, harvesting, transportation and packaging contributes a staggering 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide globally each year. In Oregon, food contributes close to 15 percent of our consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions

Shockingly, up to 40 percent of all food in the United States is never eaten, whether because of cosmetic appearances, misleading or confusing labeling, improper distribution or stocking, or poor portioning, storage or planning. Once wasted food goes to a landfill, it creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has a global warming impact roughly 21 times that of carbon dioxide. The decomposition of uneaten food is responsible for roughly 23 percent of all methane emissions in the United States.

While composting plays an important role in reducing methane emissions from food waste, it does not have the same effect as preventing food from being wasted in the first place. In fact, as DEQ cites in its preliminary work plan to reduce food waste, preventing one ton of food from being wasted results in greenhouse gas benefits six to seven times greater than recovering food waste by composting.

The Oregon Climate Action Plan directs the Department of Environmental Quality to take actions to reduce food waste in Oregon by 50 percent by 2030. In doing so, Oregon has aligned itself with the United Nations and the federal government, which both adopted similar food waste goals in 2015.

Cutting food waste in Oregon will not simply reduce harmful climate emissions. It will also:

  • Save Oregonians money: The average U.S. household of four loses an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 every year as a result of uneaten food.
  • Prevent hunger, by redistributing edible food that would otherwise be wasted, via partnerships with food banks and others. 
  • Preserve energy, water, land and labor that would otherwise be required to grow, process, transport and cook food. 

DEQ estimates that 70 percent of food waste is food that could have been eaten; only 30 percent is inedible. Right now, DEQ is focused on recovering the 70 percent that is edible, and is in the process of implementing known approaches to food waste reduction, building off of its 2017 Food Waste Reduction Strategy. These approaches include consumer education, market-driven strategies, and potential regulatory strategies, such as labeling or procurement. 

Over the next five years, DEQ estimates that about 10 percent of food waste in Oregon could be prevented. However, households and individuals will be critical to achieving those reductions: households are responsible for generating roughly 51 percent of the food that is wasted in Oregon.  

Here are some common tips for reducing food waste at home: 

  • Shop smartly: Plan meals ahead of time, use shopping lists, purchase accurate quantities, and avoid bulk and impulse purchases so that you don’t buy more than you need or can use.
  • Read the labels: More often than not, date labels are meant to serve as indicators of quality, rather than hard expiration dates for safety. Confusion over date labeling accounts for an estimated 20 percent of consumer food waste. (Learn more about date labeling on this FDA webpage). 
  • Buy ugly produce: “Ugly” fruits and vegetables have physical imperfections but are safe and nutritious– and often on sale! 
  • Practice proper preparation and storage: Prepare appropriate amounts of food, properly store leftovers, and freeze food before it spoils.
  • Declutter the kitchen: Stay organized and check your pantry, fridge and freezer often so that items don’t get lost and you can keep track of what needs to be used. 
  • Be generous: If you have more food than you can use or need, donate to a local food pantry or share extra food with family, friends, or neighbors.

Preventing climate emissions from food waste is a shared responsibility, and will require a commitment by individual consumers to adopt new habits. For more tips on how to reduce your individual food waste, visit the FDA’s Tips to Avoid Food Waste page.

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