McCabe: Ending the food waste pandemic starts with us

As an environmental advocate, I am increasingly concerned with the downward spiral of the environment’s health. I strive to make conscientious decisions so my actions have few negative environmental impacts. However, through the help of my environmental studies classes, I have become much more aware of the destruction my seemingly small choices have caused to not only the environment, but also species across the globe. 

I will start this column off with a series about food and the impact food has on the environment. According to Food Waste in America in 2021: Statistics + Facts, 80 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year in the United States. This is 40% of America’s food supply, which equals about 219 pounds per person and $1,600 per family. The effects this has on the environment are massive. Food waste in landfills produces large amounts of methane, which is worse than CO2, heating up the earth’s atmosphere, playing a major factor in global warming, according to Recycle Track Systems (RTS).

Food waste causes extensive amounts of water to dissipate. Because 70% of the world’s water usage comes from agriculture, Move for Hunger says that by throwing out one kilogram of beef, you are essentially wasting 50,000 liters of water that were used to produce that meat. In the same way, nearly 1000 liters of water are wasted when you pour one glass of milk down the drain. These examples are a drop in the bucket compared to how vast the impacts food waste has on the environment.

But what is the cause of this food waste pandemic?

One is confusion regarding expiration dates and food spoilage. Many people see an expiration date and throw food away on that date to avoid foodborne illness. However, many times these dates are there for stores to sell by that date. Using your senses, such as smelling or looking for signs of spoilage, are better in terms of deciding if something is spoiled, according to RTS.

In general, food in America is cheaper than other areas of the world. This reduces the value of food, increasing America’s cultural idea of instant gratification with little thought to the choices we make when buying food.Throwing out food leftovers instead of making new meals with them, not taking home leftover food from restaurants because it doesn’t taste the same and throwing away fruit and vegetable peelings, as well as other food discards, in the trash instead of composting contribute to the major food waste problem in America. 

Food waste being one of the main reasons for global warming makes this topic a very important task we need to work on to reduce our environmental footprint. If we want to make a difference we can’t wait for others to begin. It starts with us learning, practicing, and teaching sustainability.

Through this sustainability column I hope to share what I have learned so that we can work together to fight this impending environmental catastrophe. I know that we will never achieve perfection, but we can attempt to change the grim future of our world as we become more aware of our actions. This being said, I have gathered very little from the well of information on sustainability as there is always more to discover, so I would like your help with advice and tips. If you have any information on sustainability, I would love to hear from you. My email is

Ana McCabe is a sophomore at Augustana University, double majoring in environmental studies, with a concentration in agriculture sustainability, and journalism, with a minor in American Sign Language.

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