The City of Excess Fights Waste

By Lizzie Stricklin & Samantha Ross

While brainstorming ideas for this video, Samantha suggested that we could challenge ourselves not to waste food for a week.

Okay, I thought, quite self-righteously, but I don’t waste food. I eat whatever leftovers I have and if uneaten food goes bad, I deliver it to the compost collection on campus. Having been raised by a mom whose favorite activity is saving, limiting food waste comes natural to me.

The problem isn't just about the inequity of letting food go to waste – it’s also that food waste is a driver of climate change. Decomposing food in landfills exerts methane, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the UN FAO, “if global food waste was a country, it would be the third highest GHG emitter after the US and China.” In addition, the UN FAO states that the production of uneaten food takes up nearly 30% of the world’s agricultural land area, wasting water and other key resources.

So maybe I could pat myself on the back for reducing my personal footprint, but my existence isn't limited to the home. The impact of where I choose to buy groceries and eat out, and how those institutions deal with food waste, ripples through the community and the environment.

According to Feeding America, 40% of US food waste comes from businesses. Much of that waste is due to state date labeling policy. Federal law sets almost no guidelines for the sell-by dates of perishable foods – instead, states determine what these sell-by dates are and what food can or can’t be sold past that date, according to ReFED. In Nevada, date labels are only required for milk and “potentially hazardous foods,” and hazardous foods cannot be sold after their sell-by date.

Here in Washington, DC, though, the restrictions are higher than in any US state: city policy dictates that you cannot sell any dairy, eggs, meat, perishables, or hazardous foods past their sell-by date. This means that lots of food in DC grocery stores goes to waste - which is grievously ironic in a city that is notorious for being a food desert. In turn, this means that even if I’m reducing food waste in the home, by shopping at wasteful stores, I may be encouraging food waste on a greater scale.

That’s why stories like the partnership between the Las Vegas hospitality industry and Three Square Food Bank are important: large-scale recovery like this makes a bigger reduction in food waste than any one person could. As Maurice says in the video, this type of program could be set up anywhere – and I, for one, would love to see it across the country in DC.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.