There are plenty of steps for cutting down on energy consumption—install CFLs instead of incandescent bulbs, purchase Energy Star electronics, use smart power strips. But a new study reveals that a huge source of wasted energy is one most of us probably overlook: Food waste.
Americans chuck a whopping 27% of edible food in the trash. Those unused comestibles represent about 2030 trillion BTU—or the equivalent of approximately 350 million barrels of oil. That’s about 2% of annual energy consumption in the U.S., Amanda Cuéllar and Michael Webber report in Environmental Science & Technology. (Food-related energy use—everything from production and packaging to preparation and disposal—accounts for more than 15% of our total energy budget.)
Cuéllar and Webber write:
The energy discarded in wasted food is more than the energy available from many popular efficiency and energy procurement strategies, such as the annual production of ethanol from grains and annual petroleum available from drilling in the outer continental shelf. Consequently, the energy embedded in wasted food represents a substantial target for decreasing energy consumption in the U.S. A decrease in food waste must be accompanied with a retooling of the food supply chain to ensure that the energy consumed during food production does in fact decrease with a decrease in food waste.
The finding is likely an underestimate because the data they used were out of date, the authors note.
All of this makes me cringe when I think of the rotted veggies and moldy leftovers I sometimes find in my fridge. But I have found a few ways to cut down on food waste at home. Before heading to the grocery store, come up with a week’s worth of meals and make a list of ingredients. And leftovers don’t have to be boring. Food journalist and cookbook author Mark Bittman, for instance, suggests turning that extra cooked spaghetti into a scrumptious pasta frittata. There’s the extra perk of cutting down the grocery bill, too.
Some food waste is inevitable, of course. For info on composting programs in your area, click here.
Any other suggestions?