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Eliminating Food Waste for a Better World

Recycling is essential to a better environment and healthier citizens. Find out how food waste is a major threat to the environment and what food recycling steps we must take to combat the problem.

Many people are increasingly recycling items such as plastic, glass, and paper, but most don’t ever think about repurposing or recycling food. As the majority of food is biodegradable, it may not be immediately apparent how food waste can damage the environment. However, decomposing food and the process of transporting it to landfills can be detrimental to the ecosystem, putting all of us at risk.

Food Waste by the Numbers

The average person wastes about 500 pounds of food every year, and food waste takes up considerable space in landfills. In addition, transporting food waste to landfills increases the demand for fossil fuels, thus heightening overall environmental impact. Decomposing food also produces methane gas, which is a major contributor to climate change.


It is estimated that less than 3 percent of food waste is actually recycled. Not only are citizens lagging behind in recycling these items, but commercial and retail businesses could also improve in this area. According to the US Department of Agriculture, businesses contribute up to 40 percent of food waste, and homeowners account for approximately 43 percent. About 52 million tons of this waste inevitably ends up in landfills and costs the US about $218 billion annually.

Ways to Increase Food Recycling

While food waste is a huge problem, we can offset its effects by recycling our food. Individuals can streamline their daily food habits by planning their meals and buying only the ingredients they need and can use within a certain amount of time. Eating leftovers is another effective way to reduce food spoilage and minimize food waste.

Image courtesy Keith McDuffee | Flickr

For any uneaten food, composting is one of the best ways to combat food waste and help the environment at the same time. Composting helps to speed up the decomposition of discarded food, and people can use the soil from composting for gardening.

Businesses, especially restaurants and cafeterias, can also help with food recycling by collaborating with food recovery programs, which will pick up unused food each day and distribute it to individuals or local charitable organizations. Some municipalities even have food recycling programs designed to feed animals.

Another approach to food recycling is to employ organic waste repurposing products like the Food Cycler. This innovative device, which requires no water, chemicals, or ventilation, can transform food into a nutrient-rich soil amendment in less than 24 hours. Because products like this completely recycle food waste from start to finish, the product aligns with the zero waste philosophy.

Challenges when Recycling Food Waste

Even with all the advantages of recycling food waste, there are still some challenges. The main issue is that the infrastructure necessary to handle major food recycling initiatives is not fully developed. To have any serious effect, we will need to spend the money to build more food recycling facilities.

NWRA logoImplementing food recycling programs may involve a significant initial cost. Many people are more than willing to engage in the process of composting food waste, but they are less receptive to paying more to fund food recycling programs. A recent poll conducted by the National Waste & Recycling Association stated that many people would rather compost than pay more to have their food waste recycled by their local municipality.

Another issue is a lack of business participation. Although business participation can have a huge impact on the food waste problem, businesses are sometimes slow to embrace the concept of food donation for a variety of reasons. Smaller restaurants, for example, often have a difficult time managing food waste, and the manpower to manage this food waste may be inadequate. Because there is no concrete legislation regarding commercial food waste, the rate at which businesses donate food or recycle wasted food can vary greatly. Business food recycling participation rates range from 10 percent to 80 percent. While the cost of managing food waste may seem high, in actuality businesses could save an estimated 2 billion a year if they donated food or recycled food from unsold items or partially eaten dinners.

Food that isn’t recycled or repurposed will inevitably end up in a landfill, which increases pollution and doesn’t solve the problem of food scarcity for the approximately one in six individuals who do not have enough to eat on a regular basis. This number is astonishing considering the fact that Americans produce nearly 33 million pounds of food waste each year. Therefore, it is imperative that we work together to increase the rate of food recycling, not only for the good of others humans, but also for the good of the environment.