Could Food Waste Be Worse For the Environment Than Plastic?
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
If you're reading this, then reducing your carbon footprint is likely a goal of yours. One of the first steps to lowering your climate impact is to understand where that impact is coming from.
Today, much of media attention given to the waste and climate crisis is afforded to plastic waste. For example, we're encouraged to:
- use reusable bags at the grocery store
- recycle our plastic, glass, metal and paper waste
- use paper straws, or refuse straws in general
And these are all excellent tips, which we should all be following. However, is limiting plastic waste really the be-all-end-all of ending the climate crisis?
Food waste: what are the key figures?
Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. To put this into perspective:
- Up to 1/3 of all food produced globally is wasted
- the value of wasted food is 1 trillion dollars (USD) per year
- the amount of food wasted every year could feed 2 billion people - enough to feed the world's hungry 2.5 times over
With the risk of global warming becoming more apparent every day, it’s never been more important to realize the impact of the food waste problem.
Read on to discover how food waste is potentially much worse for the environment than plastic, and find out how you can recycle food waste more effectively.
The Plastic Recycling Movement
Our attitudes towards plastic over the last 10 years have shifted. Once considered the most useful material for storing food, packaging clothing or creating household goods, single-use plastic now finds itself at the centre of the climate crisis movement. With so much progress being made, it’s no surprise that so many people have shown their support for the cause.
In 2018 alone, landfills received 27 million tonnes of plastic waste. Taking hundreds or even thousands of years to break down, plastic is harmful to humans, animals and the wider environment. As well as clogging up landfills and filling up our oceans, the production of plastic also has a huge impact on the planet.
Like many other materials, plastic manufacturing is powered by fossil fuels which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned. Plastic’s gargantuan carbon footprint is then increased further when it is shaped, packaged, and transported all the way to our homes.
With celebrities getting on board, governments declaring wars on single-use plastics, and individuals doing their bit to reduce waste, the future is looking brighter with regard to the plastic problem. And although this is good news, we’re still facing another huge issue that needs to be dealt with.
To Read: Plastic Recycling : Malaysia's Perspective
Food Waste and the Methane Problem
Whether you’re throwing away whole loaves of bread, or scraping the remnants of a salad into your trash can, every shred of food that makes it to landfill has a grave impact on the environment. While plastic creates unnecessary CO2 emissions, food waste that’s left to rot produces huge amounts of methane, posing an even greater threat to the planet.
According to the EPA, one tonne of methane does approximately 25 times more damage over a 100-year period than one tonne of carbon dioxide. Given how little attention food waste receives when the discussion turns to the climate crisis, this is a truly staggering contrast.
It’s not just the food itself that goes to waste when we scrape our plates into the trash. All of the energy and water used to grow, harvest, transport and package our food is wasted too.
Why is Methane Bad for the Planet?
Methane gas is 30X more potent as a heat-trapping gas than CO2.
As food begins to rot in landfills, anaerobic (no-air) bacteria break it down and release methane. Once methane is released into the air, it settles in the atmosphere, trapping heat and contributing to climate change.
As a planet, if we stopped wasting food altogether, we could eliminate 8% of our global emissions overnight.
Methane Menaces: Super-Emitter Landfills
A years-long aerial survey, commissioned by California air quality regulators, has discovered that landfills may be doing more harm to the planet than initially believed. Carried out by Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and leak-detection firm, Scientific Aviation, the results of the survey were truly shocking.
Among other realizations, one key figure stands out. ‘Super-emitter’ landfills in the US were found to account for 43% of the measured methane emissions in the atmosphere, completely outweighing the impact of fossil-fuel and agricultural sectors.
While recycling plastic, tin, and other household waste is obviously important, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that food waste and its GHG by-products should be much higher up on our priority list.
How Could a Food Recycler Solve the Problem?
While huge amounts of damage have already been done, there is still time for us to reverse human impact and slow down the process of climate change.
Food recyclers or at-home composting alternatives, are a brilliant solution to food waste. By decomposing food in a smell-free and compressed environment, food recycling devices like the FoodCycler reduce your carbon footprint, and eliminate your home’s methane output. Since methane generated from food waste rotting in landfills is up to 30 times more harmful for the environment than the CO2 from our cars, it’s a great option for making a meaningful difference to climate change without a considerable lifestyle shift.
No matter how big or how small a space may be, a food recycling unit can slot seamlessly into any home and become just another part of the everyday kitchen routine. They allow for the separation of food waste from regular disposal and do all the hard work, reducing environmental impact and minimizing individual waste.
Once the food is broken down into a nourishing mulch, it can be added to plants and gardens as fertilizer, re-entering the ecosystem.
Processing food waste at home might be a daunting prospect for some, but it’s certainly a lot less intimidating than the thought of climate change being completely irreversible by 2027.
The fight against climate change certainly can’t be won by solely recycling food waste, just like it won’t be solved by a singular commitment to reducing plastic. Our efforts should focus on making the planet a greener place by cutting down on waste in every aspect of our lives. But with the methane crisis growing and little being done to stop it, recycling food waste has never been more important.
Join the movement against methane and try out a FoodCycler today.