Food Waste Reduction Can Help Protect The Planet From The Worst Effects Of Climate Change

Food Waste Reduction Can Help Protect The Planet From The Worst Effects Of Climate Change

August 9, 2021

A new report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change details the harrowing effects of global warming over the next 30 years and is a clarion call for nations to take immediate action to help mitigate its impact.

According to the report, which was based on more than 14,000 studies and approved by 195 governments, it is no longer possible to stop global warming of approximately 1.5 degrees Celsius from occurring, meaning we face a global future that includes hotter heat waves, more severe droughts, and the disappearance of some plant and animal species.

Importantly, though, there is still time to prevent global warming from rising even more and to protect the planet from the worst outcomes. But that requires a coordinated effort among businesses, governments, funders, and other groups to make changes that cause global warming to level off.

Reducing food waste is not always thought of in connection to climate change, but it can have a major impact on the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. In fact, the nonprofit Project Drawdown listed food waste reduction as one of the top solutions for mitigating climate change in its 2020 Drawdown Report.

A new analysis by ReFED shows that uneaten food is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. That’s because food that is produced but never eaten still requires enormous resources to grow, harvest, transport, cool, and cook or otherwise prepare – even when it ends up being disposed.

If all of the surplus food in the U.S. was grown in one place, this “mega-farm” would cover roughly 80 million acres, over three-quarters of the state of California. Growing the food on this farm would consume all the water used in California and Idaho combined, and it would harvest enough food to fill a 40-ton tractor every 20 seconds. Many of those trailers would travel thousands of miles, distributing food to be kept cold in refrigerators and grocery stores for weeks. But instead of being purchased, prepared, and eaten, this perfectly good food would be loaded onto another line of trucks and hauled to a landfill, where it would emit a harmful stream of greenhouse gases as it decomposes.

That’s why it’s critical that food waste reduction be considered when action plans to mitigate climate change are being developed. ReFED’s Insights Engine analyzes more than 40 food waste reduction solutions, along with their corresponding impacts on GHG emissions, water savings, and more. They range from simple best practices ready to be scaled to breakthrough innovations for all stages of the supply chain – and they are ready to be implemented with the right combination of stakeholder alignment, motivation, and funding.

As today’s report makes clear, the future is not lost. And as nations gather for the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow starting on October 31, we are hopeful that food waste reduction will be a big part of the conversation.

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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