Why are we wasting waste?


By Courtney Pelissero

One of the greatest issues surrounding the food industry is waste. From production to consumption, there is a large amount of waste being created. First off, we can think about the animal waste that is produced. With our concentrated livestock operations, there is an excess amount of waste that cannot be absorbed by the land, leading to runoff that can contaminate our water sources and our air (Berg et al., 2015). Further down the food supply line, it has been estimated that 40% of the U.S. food we harvest is uneaten and wasted (Hall et al., 2009). Globally, over 1.3 billion tons of food is lost (Berg et al., 2015). The methane and CO2 released from this waste and animal waste is a major contributor to global climate change (Hall et at., 2009).

Waste is commonly seen as a problem for the food industry, but it can also be the solution. There is a great potential to reuse food waste as an input for agriculture. The most common example of this is composting. Composting involves taking decaying organic matter, such as food waste and manure, and then using it as a fertilizer. This process can be done in an individual’s back yard or in a large-scale industrial setting. The fertilizer increases nutrient availability for plants, resulting in greater food production. Another potential example of reusing a waste product from the food industry is the use of coffee chaff (i.e., the husk from a coffee fruit). This byproduct of coffee roasting has the potential to be an effective mulch or soil amendment for urban agriculture (Moreno-Ramón et al., 2014). My summer research project is evaluating this idea, so I will report back on my findings.

With all these great opportunities to maximize food waste, why are people hesitant to take on this waste recycling? In other words, why are we wasting waste? An exploration of articles, question board posts, and conversations with peers provided me with some answers. First off, for any change to happen, people must understand the issue at hand (i.e. the problem I addressed above). In a Huffington Post article (2013), the author tells the story of how her dinner guests were full of misconceptions and were shocked when they were informed of the problems with food waste. But there are plenty of people familiar with the food waste tragedy, so why are these individuals still hesitant to get on board? Well, when it comes to composting, a major barrier is the fear odors, bugs, and rodents. Another burden is the cost of composting, like buying a compost bin or other supplies. Some people do not want to take the time to manage the compost, like turning it. In addition, it seems people do not understand how composting works and do not feel like investing the time into researching the topic. On a city and state level, there are also barriers. Waste management businesses make their money on collecting waste and putting it in landfills, so they lobby hard to push their agenda and create barriers for community-wide composting (Mother Jones, 2012). At an industrial scale, there are major expenses to the upkeep and application of compost.

As I read all these hesitations towards reusing waste (and reflecting on my own reservations), there seemed to be one major theme: convenience. Composting or finding a use for other food waste is not always convenient. It is much easier to throw your food in the trash, have it hauled away to the landfill, and forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. The negative consequences of letting our

waste fill our landfills and pollute our Earth will definitely be far from out of sight in the future. Yes, finding uses for our waste might take a little more time and involve a little more expense, but these waste products are valuable resources we would be wise to take advantage of. It is time for humanity to stop making excuses, buck up, and stop wasting waste.

Works Cited Miller, Aly. “Why Compost?” July 9, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/food-politic/why-compost_b_3567964.html.

Hall, Kevin D., et al. “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and its Environmental Impact.” PloS One, vol. 4, no. 11, 2009, pp. e7940, MEDLINE, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19946359, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007940.

Sheppard, Kate. “Why Doesn’t Your City have Curbside Composting?.”, September 10, 2012, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/09/why-doesnt-your-city-have-curbside-composting/.

Moreno-Ramón, H., S. J. Quizembe, and S. Ibáñez-Asensio. “Coffee Husk Mulch on Soil Erosion and Runoff: Experiences Under Rainfall Simulation Experiment.” Solid Earth, vol. 5, no. 2, 2014, pp. 851-862, CrossRef, http://search.proquest.com/docview/1757039204, doi:10.5194/se-5-851-2014.

Berg, P., Horrigan, L., and Neff, R. “Food Systems, the Environment, and Public Health.” Introduction to the US Food System: Public Health, Environment and Equity. Edited by Roni Neff. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2015.