Stop Food Waste

Have you ever considered what happens to all of the extra food and drinks that are cast aside unopened at the end of each lunch period? The ugly truth is that all of that perfectly good food is thrown away, contributing to the millions of tons, 63 million tons to be exact, of food wasted every year in the United States. Those 63 million tons of food amount to about 40 of the total food that is produced in the United States each year (Gale, a Cengage Company). As individuals, Americans waste an estimated 290 pounds of food each year (Scholastic, Inc.). To clarify, food waste is defined as “”the intentional rejection and discard of edible food that occurs on the retail and consumption side of the supply chain””(Gale, a Cengage Company).

The key word in that definition is that the food is edible, meaning that it is still safe to consume and yet it’s being thrown out. Food waste is widespread and considered a problem by governments the world over but more specifically a large problem in the US. School cafeterias are a major culprit of food waste, contributing $1.2 billion dollars of food waste to the annual total of $218 billion of food waste in the US each year (Cohen). Too often, excess food such as milk or bags of carrots, are thrown out unopened despite being perfectly safe to consume. In fact, 90% of consumers throw away edible food due to confusion regarding “”sell by”” and “”best by”” dates. These dates are simply referring to the quality of the food rather than its safety(Gale, a Cengage Company). So why waste all of that food when it could be used to help those in need? Instead of throwing out excess food, schools cafeterias should instead donate that food to local food pantries rather than discarding it.

Donating excess food from school cafeterias is an easy, sensible, and sustainable plan. Most areas have a local food pantry or one close by if not directly in the town. This means that it would be very easy to bring excess food from schools to the food pantries. Specifically, Perkasie has the food pantry Pennridge Fish which openly accepts donations. It makes sense to donate locally because it is simple and it allows schools to give back to the community and maybe even help families that may have children in the district. Collecting the excess food would be easy as well. At the end of each lunch period, as the lunch ladies are cleaning up, they can sort through the food that they are planning to get rid of and find what is edible and set it aside for donation. Then, the cafeteria manager can bring that food to their local pantry when they leave the school for the day. This also allows for there to be a steady supply of food going to the food pantries each day which means that their will be more food to feed more people who don’t have a stable food supply. This is also a plan that can be sustained for as long as there is excess food in school cafeterias, which is an ever prominent issue that will continue in the years to come, so it will forever follow the idea of paying it forward.

The first reason that this solution will work is because it will help homeless or poor people get the food they need to survive. “”On any given day, over 15,000 Pennsylvanians are known to be homeless””(Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development). These people don’t have a stable food supply and often go days without eating. And that doesn’t even include people who aren’t homeless but still don’t have a stable food supply. In 2015, it was reported that 42 million Americans or 13% of Americans are unable to consistently acquire sufficient food (Gale, a Cengage Company). Millions of people are hungry and yet, schools are throwing out over a billion of dollars of food each year when people in their own community are in need. In fact, the US government believes that the recovery and distribution of excess food to hungry citizens is one of the key parts in reducing food waste. The USDA and EPA announced in 2015 that they had a goal to reduce all food waste in the US by 50% by the year 2030. The plan they created is three tiered with the second tier dedicated to donating edible food to excess citizens. And that is more advanced version of what the USDA has been saying since 2012 when it encouraged food distributors to donate unopened milk, bags of carrots, whole fruit, and other untouched food to community members in need (Gale a Cengage Company). All of those items listed by the USDA are wasted daily in Pennridge cafeterias and cafeterias across the country. By taking that extra food and bring it to a food pantry, schools are giving back to their community and potentially helping their own students and their families have a meal that they would otherwise be forced to miss.

The second reason this solution will work is because it will decrease pollution and abuse to natural resources. When the topic of food waste is being discussed, it is easy to think soley of the food item itself as the thing being waste. The truth however, it that by wasting food, you are also wasting natural resources and contributing to pollution. “”Within the United States, around one-fourth of the freshwater consumed annually is used to produce food that goes uneaten”” (Gale, a Cengage Company). Seeing as the concept of freshwater shortages has been a hot topic in the news lately, it is easy to see why it would be the reduction of freshwater wate is something that the US government is interested in working on. Not only does food waste contribute to freshwater waste but the production of food in general is a big contributing factor in water pollution. As large farms produce food surpluses, they are polluting nearby freshwater sources through runoff from pesticides, fertilizer, and animal waste. In addition, agriculture as a whole contributes to deforestation, soil degradation, habitat loss, and the reduction of biodiversity (Gale, a Cengage Company). These negative effects of agriculture are especially sicking considering that 28% of agricultural land worldwide that is used to produce food goes uneaten (Gale, a Cengage Company). Looking beyond the wastefulness and pollution that occurs during food production, after food is thrown out, it continues to pollute the environment that contributed to its creation. In fact, in 2014, the largest percentage of landfill municipal solid waste was made up of food at 22% (Gale, a Cengage Company). Not only that by it has been proven that the decomposition of food waste produces methane which impacts the atmosphere 20 times as much as carbon dioxide (Gale, a Cengage Company). By donating excess food to local pantries, it makes the exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources slightly more justifiable because this way less of the resources are being wasted and instead are being used for a good cause.

The third reason this solution will work is because it will save the US government billions of dollars each year. It is estimated that America, as a whole, loses $218 billion dollars a year due to food waste. More specifically, schools account for $1.2 billion dollars of America’s annual food waste (Scholastic, Inc.). In fact, “”an estimated $432,349 of food (26.1% of the total food budget) was discarded by middle school students annually at lunch in… middle schools.For most meal components, substantially less than 85% was consumed”” (Cohen). Schools are responsible for throwing out over a billion dollars of government money each year when that money could instead be put towards a good cause. With America being trillions of dollars in debt, it seems ludicrous to waste billions of dollars throwing out edible food when there are people who are hungry. If food is donated however, that money is not being wasted, but rather being put towards helping people in need. With food prices rising, it is getting harder and harder for those in need to buy nutritious food for their families so why not put the money the government would otherwise be wasting on discarded food to good use. By donating excess food from schools to food pantries, schools are preventing a loss of over a billion dollars each year and helping people in need all at the same time.

One concern that may deter people from supporting this plan is that their is a chance that food could have been contaminated or that it could have been sitting out too long and gone bad.

“”Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a bacterium frequently found in soil, sewage, and the intestines of humans and animals. It usually is transferred by the food handler to the food itself, where it multiplies and produces its toxin. C. perfringens often is found in school cafeterias because it thrives in food that is served in quantity and left out for long periods at room temperature or on a steam table”” (The American Academy for Pediatrics).

While this is a legitimate concern and something that would need to be closely monitored, there are ways to insure the quality of donated food. “”According to the US Food and Drug Administration, refrigerated foods, including milk, should never be out of the fridge at room temperature for longer than two hours””(Builder). This means that as long as the lunch ladies recover any unopened milk, whole pieces of fruit (that aren’t damaged), and food items that are still sealed in their packages at the end of each half hour lunch period, the food could be put back in the refrigerator so it remains safe to eat. The excess, recovered food can then simply remain in the refrigerator until the end of the day when the cafeteria manager brings the food to the nearest food pantry.

Food waste is not only a local problem but a worldwide issue. It wastes billions of dollars annually, it contributes to pollution and the abuse of our natural resources, and it permits the throwing out of edible food that could instead be used to feed hungry people. By donating excess edible food to local food pantries, schools can drastically decrease the amount of resources wasted during the production of food as well as help community members in need. But it doesn’t have to be just schools! Individuals can decrease food waste by donating their own edible food that they don’t plan to eat to their local food pantries. Donating excess food to a local food pantry is a simple, yet impactful, way to give back and help fellow community members who are less fortunate than you. So rather than throwing food out, give it out to those in need.

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