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The Effects of Our Food Waste

An essay by Tyler Chandler

Our planet has been an extremely efficient system for hundreds of millions of years. It provides essential resources such as clean water, breathable air, and an abundance of food. All while producing zero waste.

As part of this system, all life will die and leave their remains behind, though what is left behind is never wasted. Instead, this organic matter is broken down by insects, fungi, and microorganisms. The decomposed matter then fertilizes the soil, which in turn sprouts new life. The plants then feed and protect the life around it, continuing the cycle within a fragile circle of life.

However, human activities on the planet threaten to upset this delicate balance. Roughly one hundred years ago, we developed the ability to produce synthetic fertilizers and heavy machinery. The use of these newly developed products led to a boom in the production capacity of our agricultural land, which in turn led to a rise in global population, since we had the means to feed more people.

With these advancements and the rapid growth in population came new, unforeseen problems for both the planet and its people. One of these modern problems is the fact that modern farming practices are capable of producing so much food that much of it is never consumed.

To put into perspective how much food goes to waste; if we were to look at all of the agricultural land around the world, roughly 1/3 of it is used to grow food that is never eaten.

While this wasted food is a drain on resources such as water, fuel, fertilizer, time, and other resources. Some of the most harmful consequences occur once this waste is disposed of.

Most of this food waste (i.e. organic matter) will eventually find its way to the landfill, where it will be mixed with all of our other garbage and buried underground. Once buried, this organic matter will decompose anaerobically, which means it will decompose without oxygen.

This decomposition without oxygen leads to the generation of methane gas. This gas then seeps out of the ground and into the atmosphere. While this might not seem like much of an issue, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with nearly 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

If we were to calculate the total carbon footprint of our food waste, it would equate to 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide gas.

Much like the consequences to the environment which did not happen overnight, the solution will require a long and intentional journey. Small changes within your home like composting, are where the large changes begin to take shape.

Knowledge is powerful. To learn more about composting and its benefits, as well as the consequences of organic matter in landfill waste, check out this article from a sustainable business owner and compost advocate in Australia.

Written by Tyler Chandler, who holds a

Master's Degree in Sustainability Solutions and Founder of Sustainable Ed.

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