Food Waste Around the World, Episode 35: USA
Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle’s project aimed at providing information and raising awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students coming from different countries with the aim of understanding how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.
Today we speak with Teressa from the USA!
"I recognize that food waste is a complex problem in the US that has some logistical restraints. However, all in all, there is just way too much food waste in the USA and more action needs to be taken on multiple levels."
Hello Teressa. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I am really interested to learn more about food waste in the USA. Before we start, would you mind introducing yourself shortly?
Hi there, my name is Teressa and I grew up in Michigan, USA. I started studying Psychology because I really care for others and want to help people in any way I can. However, during my studies, I discovered my second passion: to protect and preserve the environment. Since my graduation, I have sought out positions in organizations that are impactful and either help people or the environment (or ideally both). I was so excited to find this internship! Now, I work at Food Circle as a Talent and Administrative Coordinator. I get to interview people to learn their motivations, life goals, and skills and give them the opportunity to grow at this amazing, sustainable organization. On the other hand, I have learned more about food waste and how to continue to reduce my environmental impact while collaborating with a great team on sustainable projects.
How do you feel about the food waste in the USA?
The USA is one of the worst contenders of food waste worldwide! What is worse is that this food is then ending up in landfills where it cannot properly decompose and it releases the harmful greenhouse gas called methane. This thought makes my stomach turn. Moreover, it is crazy to me to think about all the food that is wasted in the USA and the number of people that face hunger. Luckily there are some organizations that also recognize this problem and focus their efforts on rescuing food from waste by donating to homeless and nearly starving people. I remember as a child going through our pantry twice a year and filling a box of food we would probably not eat ourselves to donate to the less fortunate.
What are the measurements taken and are they enough in your opinion?
As I mentioned, there are some organizations that recognize food waste as a problem and use it to solve another problem (ie. hunger). I have also heard of some urban areas offering composting services that collect food waste to create compost for local farms. I recognize that food waste is a complex problem in the US that has some logistical restraints. However, all in all, there is just way too much food waste in the USA and more action needs to be taken on multiple levels.
You are living in the Netherlands. How do you compare the food waste situation? Do you experience similarities or differences?
It is difficult to compare the USA and the Netherlands. For starters, the Netherlands is a significantly smaller country that is more densely populated. Therefore, in the Netherlands, it is much easier in terms of transportation/disposal of waste and recycling. Likewise, I can only really share my experiences of my rural town in Michigan. The averages in the entire USA may be different. My family currently lives on a farm approximately a 10-minute drive from the nearest town (and 30-45 minutes away from a slightly bigger town/city). It is not easily possible for them to separate and recycle plastic, paper, glass, and organic matter from the residual waste like they do in the Netherlands. My family still continues to compost most of their food waste like many other rural households. However, many urban households do not bother with composting or even realize the immense amount of food they waste.
On the other hand, in the Netherlands, food waste and organic matter can easily be separated in green (GFT) containers which are collected by local municipalities to be made into compost and biofuel for buses. In this way, it is awesome to see the Netherlands using organic waste as a resource and preventing it from ending up in a landfill. It would be great to see the USA make more of an effort to reduce the amount of food waste in general and more specifically the food waste that ends up in landfills.
What could the Netherlands learn from the USA in regards to tackling food waste and vice versa?
One reason that I believe there is so much food waste in the USA is because of portion sizing and pricing. It is very common in the US to buy in bulk to save money. The attitude then is, “Well, it is cheaper to buy more, so even if I waste some of it, I am still saving money”. This is not the situation in the Netherlands. Food can even be considered quite expensive and therefore appreciated and valued more, so it is wasted less. On the other hand, regarding food waste in restaurants, it is common in the US to take home leftovers to eat the next day. In the Netherlands, the food not eaten at the restaurant is just thrown out.
A food waste prevention app called “Too Good To Go” is becoming increasingly popular in both the Netherlands and the US! These types of initiatives are great to see!
How did you become conscious about food waste and what do you wish would change?
I was always quite conscious of waste when I was younger. It was my chore to take out the trash so I could really monitor our waste. I even took the extra effort (that many people didn’t) to separate the trash for recycling. My parents also had a nice vegetable garden so we did compost much of our organic food scraps to use in the garden. I am happy to have been raised in such a household.
I would really like to see less food waste in the USA, particularly food waste ending up in landfills. Organic waste can really be a resource to restore and regenerate the land. Moreover, making recycling and/or composting more accessible could reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.
This was very informative. Thank you so much for sitting down with me and sharing your knowledge and thoughts!
Interviewer: Lea Annikki Kaiser
Interviewed: Teressa Griffith
Editor and Writer: Lea Annikki Kaiser
References and more information:
FAO. (n.d.). Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources - Summary report. FAO. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.fao.org/3/i3347e/i3347e.pdf
Food Waste FAQs. (n.d.). USDA. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs
Food Waste in America. (n.d.). Feeding America. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/our-approach/reduce-food-waste
Food Waste in America in 2022: Statistics & Facts | RTS. (n.d.). Recycle Track Systems. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.rts.com/resources/guides/food-waste-america/
the world counts. (2022). What's for dinner? the world counts. https://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/food-waste-facts