EPA sees spike in food waste during holidays

By Kelli Duncan For Chronicle Media

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently created a website, savethefood.com, that includes a “Guestimator,” which helps calculate the right amount of food you should prepare for your holiday party based on who is coming and how much they typically eat. (Screenshot of savethefood.com web page)

For many, the holiday season is a time filled with lavish decorations, gifts and food — a lot of food. While these things are what make the holidays so special, it can be easy to go overboard.

According to an article published by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American household produces 25 percent more waste from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day than they do at any other point in the year.

“Trash cans full of holiday food waste, shopping bags, bows and ribbons, packaging, and wrapping paper contribute an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills,” the article stated.

Both the EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council have released recommendations on how consumers can reduce the amount of packaging and other items that go to waste around the holidays. Some suggestions include switching to holiday-themed LED lights, using reusable gift bags or boxes instead of wrapping paper and opting for homemade decorations.

One of the most prevalent materials that gets wasted around the holidays, however, is leftover or unused food. When planning holiday get-togethers and parties, it can be very difficult to anticipate how much food will be needed to keep everyone satisfied.

The NRDC recently created a website with information and resources designed to help reduce food waste at the consumer level. The site, savethefood.com, includes a “Guest-imator,” which helps calculate the right amount of food you should prepare for your holiday party based on who is coming and how much they typically eat.

Unfortunately, the problem of food waste in the United States goes beyond the holiday season.

Up to 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes to waste, according to a 2012 report by the NRDC.

While food is wasted on farms and at grocery stores for various reasons, the largest portion of food waste happens at home. When food is wasted, all of the resources that went into getting that food to your plate are wasted as well.

According to the NRDC report, “Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States.”

The report also stated that food waste currently accounts for the single largest component of

U.S. landfills, beyond any other solid waste material. When food decomposes in a landfill, it

releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. According to the report, decomposing food waste accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions.

Beyond the environmental impact, food waste costs Americans money — about $165 billion each year to be exact.

Luckily, there are many ways that families can reduce their food waste at home, on the holidays and all year round. Some strategies for reducing food waste are to shop wisely, educate yourself about expiration date labels and the lifespan of different foods and consider buying produce that is less cosmetically attractive.

Another feature of the NRDC’s Save the Food website, the “Meal Prep Mate” assists you in planning out weekly meals for you and your family so that your shopping list is portioned out efficiently.

The statistic that 40 percent of food produced in the United States is wasted is staggering, especially given that many Americans struggle to put enough food on the table for their families.

“Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when 1-in-6 Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables,” the NRDC report states.

Another way to reduce the amount of food that is wasted around the holidays is to consider donating unused food items to a local food assistance organization. The Greater Chicago Food Depository accepts donations of unopened food items all year round.

Communications Specialist for GCFD, Megan Bennett, said anyone interested in donating food items is welcome to bring donations to their headquarters as well as any one of their hundreds of partner agencies located throughout Cook County.

For more information and a full list of partner organizations, visit their donation website at myfooddrive.org.

“For anyone who may be interested in donating fresh food items like produce, we now have the option to host a virtual food drive where people donate funds, which directly support our ability to purchase fresh, nutritional food and, that way, their money actually goes a lot further,” Bennett said.

Bennett said that the GCFD welcomes any and all donations of food and funds as well as donations of time in the form of volunteering with them or one of their partner agencies.

“This is an issue that affects so many people in our community,” she said. “It may be a neighbor, it may be a friend. You never know who might be struggling with food insecurity.”

To sign up to volunteer, call the GCFD at 773-247-3663 or visit their website: chicagosfoodbank.org.