Huge amounts of food waste are generated every day. It has been estimated that worldwide about 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted annually, enough to feed three billion people. But the huge amounts of food waste also create problems for the waste management companies. Here is a short overview of the food waste problem.
You may think that since food waste biodegrades, it can’t create much of a problem in landfills. Unfortunately, food waste in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas, when decomposing. According to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), methane is more than 20 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. Landfills are estimated to produce 34% of the methane in the US. Methane production is not the only problem created by food waste in landfills. A lot of food waste attracts vermin and flies. Some food waste produces odors when they rot. But also the enormous amounts of food waste create problems, new landfills are needed in order to handle all discarded food.
Unlikely many other categories of waste, very little food waste is recycled. This makes food waste the largest category of waste going to landfills. In the US, food scraps make up about 20% of the waste dumped into landfills. According to official figures from the US government, of 34 million tons of food waste, only 3% were recycled. But food waste is a global problem.
According to some reports, countries such as Japan and the UK discard between 30% and 40% of the food they produce. It is worth noting that the figures depend on who you ask, some people think the figures are lower. Households are part of the problem but supermarkets and restaurants through away a lot of food, often untouched. According to one study, 15% of all edible food bought in the US is discarded untouched. If the figure is true, it means that $43 billion of food is completely wasted. Quite clearly, the money could have been better spent.
Composting is a good way of getting rid of food waste, it is after all a natural process. The end product is useful, compost is one of the best ways to enrich soil. But composting is not a feasible solution in cities. Some local authorities subsidize composting bin systems. Unfortunately, not all kinds of food should be put into composts, dairy products, fats, meat and fish are things that you should not put into the compost. On the other, in some places the local authorities have banned home composting. They are afraid that the food scraps will attract rodents and vermin. Households are not the only source of food waste, various businesses produce a lot of food waste as well. For them composting will seldom be a feasible solution. Clearly, composting can not alone solve the problem but it can be part of the solution.
Garbage disposals can be used to decrease the amount of food waste going to landfills. By shredding the food waste into small particles, it can be discarded through the sewer system. Modern waste water treatment plants can convert the food waste into biogas. It is worth noting that not everyone thinks that garbage disposals are good for the environment. Critics say that garbage disposers create more environmental issues than they solve. In some places the food waste in the waste water still ends up in landfills. Here you can read more about the topic: are garbage disposals environmentally friendly
Many experts are suggesting a broader strategy for solving the food waste problem. First the amount of food produced and purchased should be reduced. Overproduction of food cost a lot of energy which could be used much more productive. More food needs to be recycled rather than ending up in landfills.