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#TooGoodToWaste highlights how wasted food fuels climate change

 Experts say 37 to 47% of food waste comes from individual households.
Experts say 37% to 43% of food waste comes from individual households.

As an individual, finding a way to help the environment can seem like a challenge. But it turns out we can help mitigate climate change simply by actually eating the food we buy.

The St. Louis-based nonprofit earthday365 recently launched a new campaign, #TooGoodToWaste, to educate St. Louisans about the issue of food waste, how they can help — and how much money they can save by changing their lifestyle.

Jess Watson, the executive director of earthday365, discussed the campaign on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air and explained how lessening food waste can have a positive impact on climate change.

“Of the food that comes into your household, around 40% of it gets wasted,” Watson said. “So it's like every time you buy three grocery bags, you just drop one in the parking lot on the way to the car.”

That food waste hurts the environment, and it costs consumers, too — up to $1,300 a year per person.

 Jess Watson is the executive director of earthday365.
Jane Mather-Glass
Jess Watson is the executive director of earthday365.

Watson noted that people often think that because food is biodegradable, food waste isn’t a big issue. But as it rots in landfills, it’s actually a huge source of methane, a greenhouse gas she describes as significantly worse than carbon dioxide.

It goes beyond that. As Watson explained, she didn’t realize how much she was contributing to the food waste issue because she and her family compost their waste. But she then learned that even composting wasn’t enough.

“Actually, most of the climate change that we're talking about that's associated with food waste, is in the resources that went into producing the food in the first place to get it to your plate,” Watson said. “It's the energy that it took to clear the farmland, the water that went into it, the transportation to get it to the grocery store, the packaging, all of that adds up to just a huge amount of wasted resources.”

#TooGoodToWaste highlights how wasted food fuels climate change

Another misconception Watson discussed is that most food waste comes from larger facilities, like farms or grocery stores.

“If you break down food waste by category, farms are something like 21% of that, grocery stores are 28%, but individual households, it's between 37 and 43% of the overall food waste,” she said. “So most of the food waste is actually being generated by us, by you and me.”

Doing your part is simple, Watson said. Freezing extra fruit to make smoothies or putting dairy in the coldest parts of your fridge can make a big difference. Plus, knowing how expiration dates really work — or don’t work — is key.

“There are no national standards for these expiration dates,” Watson said. “They're just done by the individual manufacturers and so of course they're going to place them much earlier than the food would actually spoil.”

The best way to check if your food is still good, she says, is to use your own judgment and senses. If a food’s smell or appearance have changed, that’s the best way to tell it might be on its last legs. Otherwise, it's probably safe to eat.

Watson says managing food waste is one of the best ways for people to feel like we can have an impact on our environment.

“It's some way for all of us to grapple with this huge issue of climate change, and cut it down to the size that an individual household can actually do something about. So it's a way to address this anxiety that climate change produces in all of us.”

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St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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