FARMINGTON, Conn. — In a historic moment for the planet, more than 190 countries came together in Paris last month to sign an ambitious climate agreement – one that will establish a framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.
There are a number of strategies and actions that can help nations meet their goals within this framework. One action in particular can take a bite out of climate emissions while unlocking solutions for hunger, nutrition, water scarcity, economic expansion and national security: reducing food waste.
For the first time, food waste has finally received a seat at the table for policy discussions. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency set a new national food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030. Now, thanks to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, the United States has an opportunity to put this goal into action with the introduction of the Food Recovery Act, a bill that would implement strategies to reduce food waste at the consumer, production and distribution level.
On behalf of my company, United Technologies – and as a part-time Mainer myself – I congratulate Rep. Pingree for bringing this bill forward. The legislation helps elevate food waste reduction strategies as a way to feed more people, with added benefits for the environment.
In my role as chief sustainability officer for United Technologies, I’ve witnessed firsthand the inefficiency and waste in the global food system. We believe that our refrigeration technologies keep more food fresh before it reaches household refrigerators than anyone else on the planet. This gives us a unique perspective on the global food system – and the amount of food waste that we see concerns us.
Farmers worldwide produce and grow enough food to feed 10 billion people, yet on a planet of 7 billion people, only about 6 billion of us are getting enough food. That’s the tremendous inefficiency – and, frankly, opportunity – before us.
One-third of all wasted food happens at the consumer level, where we buy too much and throw it away – a common problem among developed nations. Two-thirds of all wasted food happens at the production and distribution level, mostly in emerging economies. We need strategies for both.
Food waste also has a devastating impact on the environment. For example, when we throw out a head of broccoli, we also flush away the 5.4 gallons of water used to grow it. In fact, the irrigated water used to grow the food we waste is more than the irrigated water used by any one country.
Greenhouse gas emissions are no less significant. In alarming news, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization just revised upward the carbon footprint of food waste to a staggering 3.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide.
This squarely places food waste third in the world for greenhouse gas emissions if measured as a country. That’s all the energy that goes to produce the food we never eat, including fuel for tractors used for planting and harvesting, electricity for water pumps in the field, the power for processing and packaging facilities, and more.
These numbers may seem overwhelming. But with actions like those outlined in Rep. Pingree’s Food Recovery Act, we can waste less to feed more. And as we tackle food waste, we can learn lessons from the energy conservation movement.
Like energy, we need to efficiently spread the food we already grow across more people without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Food conservation must be every bit as important as energy conservation.
The time is now to act, as the low-hanging fruit for climate protection is literally rotting. What we need is an Age of Food Efficiency, where we waste less to feed more, with big dividends to the environment. Even saving a portion of what is wasted can have a dramatic impact on reducing hunger, malnutrition, poverty, political instability, water shortages and carbon emissions.
With greater awareness and comprehensive thought like that in Rep. Pingree’s legislation, we can do something about food waste with readily available solutions – from changing consumer behavior to developing sustainable technologies – to preserve food from farm to fork. We can secure the future of food.
— Special to the Press Herald