Baltimore County News
By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Communications Specialist, Baltimore County Bureau of Solid Waste Management
Americans are biting off more than we can chew.
Picture it: you bring groceries home from the store and prepare a family favorite for dinner – spaghetti and meatballs with salad and garlic bread. After eating, you all pitch in to clear the table, placing food scraps and maybe even some leftovers down the garbage disposal or in the trash. With everything put away and the counters and table shining clean, dinner is over, and you and your family settle in to watch an episode or two of your favorite show on Netflix. It’s a familiar scene, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Not even close.
So, what is the whole story? The story of our food is a complicated one involving a long, meandering journey from “farm to fork to landfill." In 2017, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management plans to explore this journey in a series of articles about food waste, food waste prevention and food recovery to help readers better understand the impact our daily food choices have on our families, our communities and our planet.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food makes up the largest percentage of waste that is buried in landfills or burned in incinerators, and more than 30 million tons of food are sent to landfills each year. In fact, 30 to 40 percent of the food produced annually in the U.S. is thrown away, which is more than 20 pounds per person, per month.
Think about it – what kinds of foods made up your 20 pounds last month? What foods are you actually eating, and what are you throwing away? How much are you throwing away, and how much did it cost? To reduce the amount of food we waste, we must first understand what we are wasting, why we’re wasting it, and how that waste affects us.
From farms to cafes to our kitchens, food waste happens in a variety of ways, such as:
- People prepare too much food for meals and throw out the leftovers;
- Food that was overcooked or badly prepared is thrown away;
- Diners over order at restaurants, or the portions are too large, and the leftovers are disposed of;
- “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are left to rot on farm fields or disposed of at grocery stores;
- Food goes “bad” before we’ve had a chance to eat it, or is disposed of due to confusing food date labeling.
Why does this matter? Food waste is costly. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, food waste costs Americans $165 billion each year. That works out to approximately $529 per person. Food waste also harms the environment. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that food waste, if ranked among countries, would place third in total greenhouse gas emissions, after China and the United States. Lastly, food waste is a social problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that nearly 13 percent of U.S. households, or 42 million people, were food insecure in 2015.
Given the financial, environmental and social impacts of food waste, we all have a role to play in reducing the amount of food we throw away. Here are 10 tips to help you prevent food waste at home:
- Plan your meals in advance and shop smart.
- Don’t over-serve at home, serve food on smaller plates, and eat your leftovers!
- Store food in the right places (pantry, refrigerator) and containers (freezer bags, airtight containers).
- Avoid kitchen clutter and keep food neat and visible; keep foods “first-in, first-out.”
- Regularly take inventory and note approaching expiration dates; plan meals using those items.
- Treat “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by” dates as guidelines only. The FDA actually permits stores to sell food past the “expiration date.” Remember, food date labels serve the retailer, not the consumer.
- Use soft produce in smoothies, soups and juices.
- Keep a food waste diary of the kinds of food you throw away, and why.
- As they say, beauty is only skin deep, so go ahead and buy that “ugly” produce.
- Use it up – cook with food scraps, such as meat trimmings and produce skins, peels, stems, and stalks.
It’s also important to talk to your family members about what they can do to prevent food waste at home, school and work.
In the next installment of our series about food waste, we will provide an overview of Maryland’s very first Food Recovery Summit, which brought together representatives from nonprofit organizations, local schools, environmental groups, the retail food industry, and local, state and federal governments to share ideas and best practices for reducing food waste in our state.
This article originally appeared in the Baltimore County Bureau of Solid Waste Management’s REsource Newsletter. To subscribe, visit our website.
Public Hearing is October 13, 2015
In accordance with the amended Annotated Code of Maryland, Environment Article Section 9-1712, the Baltimore County Department of Public Works is proposing an amendment to Baltimore County’s Ten Year Solid Waste Management Plan (“the Plan”) regarding the availability of recycling at certain special events.
In order to solicit input from the community, a public hearing is being held on Tuesday, October 13, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Towson Library meeting room, located at 320 York Road in Towson. Representatives from Baltimore County will be present at the hearing to accept comments and answer questions. Further information can be obtained by calling the Bureau of Solid Waste Management at 410-887-2000.
Proposed Plan Available, Submit Comments
Download a copy of the proposed Plan amendment or pick up a hard copy at the office of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management at 111 West Chesapeake Avenue in Towson (County Office Building), and at every branch of the Baltimore County Public Library system.
In addition to the public hearing, people may submit written comments on the proposed amendment to Edward C. Adams Jr., Director, Department of Public Works, 111 West Chesapeake Avenue, Towson, Maryland 21204. Comments must be received within 35 days of the public hearing.