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The Environmental Impact of Food Waste


Up to a third of all food produced is wasted, though that food could easily feed the hungry. This percentage varies. For example, up to 80 percent of food is lost in production due to pests and food that rots because they lack refrigeration. Food waste also wastes the resources used to produce food. Let’s look at the environmental impact of food waste in all its forms.

Larger Ocean Dead Zones If you’re planting 20 percent more land than necessary because of food waste, you’re consuming fresh water and fertilizers to feed those crops. The runoff ends up in the ocean, fueling algae growth. The end result is dead zones where the natural ecosystem is crippled or outright dead.

Increased Pest Populations The simplest example of this is seen in the animals crowded around food left on the ground or trash can. It is birds fighting over French fries and bears going after food in the garbage dump. When you have more food waste, you’re both fueling the growth in their population and their tendency to feed on these unnatural sources. You also get more flies and other pests feeding on food waste in the garbage can and the dump. On the other hand, pests that eat food in the fields before it can be harvested or while it is on its way to being processed counts as food waste.

Increased Trash Production This is obvious when you throw away half of the fruit you bought or half the takeout along with the plastic bag. All of that food has to be sent to the dump because it can’t be recycled. This is in part because food waste can’t really be separated and sent to a compost heap the way glass, plastic, and metal can be. You can try to only buy what you eat or find ways to reuse the leftover food instead of throwing it away. For example, use leftover fruit in desserts or in the making of smoothies. You might be able to reduce food waste through education, too. For example, the salmon skin is generally safe for consumption as long as it didn’t come from a polluted source. This is where eating salmon screened for toxic chemicals becomes important. You could learn how to use orange peels to make household cleaners or use leftover cuts of meat to make stew.

Soil Damage Water used to irrigate fields will return to the water cycle. However, the trace minerals and chemicals used to purify the water will end up in the soil. The calcium and chlorine can build up in the soil, reducing its fertility. In a worst-case scenario, salt from the irrigation water eventually renders the land unusable.

Less Land for Wildlife Traditional agriculture took place on fertile land, while marginal land was set aside for grazing livestock. Modern agriculture keeps animals in dense feedlots and indoor barns while raising grain for their consumption on productive land. This results in less untouched land that wild animals can live on. Slash and burn agriculture in the poorest parts of the world destroy forests for the sake of a few years’ worths of farmland before the soil is exhausted.

This article was originally published by Ovidiu Sandru,

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