Save the planet, one clean plate at a time

“Don’t waste, don’t want to,” was one of my grandparents’ favorite guidelines.

One day in my teens, as I was straightening my hair in front of the bathroom mirror, my cheeks flushed a bright red as my grandfather bent down to pull a bent hairpin out of the scrap basket. that I had thrown away.

Silently, he straightened it up and handed it back to me. I thanked him by putting it in my hair.

As children, we were also told to “clean” our plates at mealtime; children were dying of hunger in China.

But hunger is not a distant problem. It is here in our midst.

The Guilderland Food Pantry recently sent out a leaflet stating that 1,100 families in Guilderland have incomes below or equal to the poverty line and that around 550 families with school-aged children are entitled to free or reduced-price lunches.

The Pantry does a heroic job, turning donations into food for those in need.

The pandemic has exposed many disparities in our society and has highlighted the need for government and individual action to address the now obvious problems.

One of New York State’s initiatives during the pandemic, the Nourish New York program, similar to the roots of food stamps during the Great Depression, pairs local farmers who have surplus produce with hungry people. . We are pleased that this program is continuing after the pandemic.

The unwilling waste philosophy behind this program is also found in the regulations that the state’s environmental conservation department has proposed to improve recycling of food waste and prevent food waste. Not only would this help feed hungry New Yorkers, it would also help prevent climate change.

Designated food waste generators such as restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, universities, food processing factories, prisons and sports venues that create an annual average of two or more tonnes of food waste per week would be required to donate their excess food. Waste that is not usable would be recycled to an organics production facility.

Currently, tens of thousands of tonnes of food waste are regularly buried in landfills. Not only does this fill a space that could be better used for other waste, but, as food breaks down, it creates huge amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. .

If communities around the world were to compost instead of burying food to rot, the carbon savings would be equivalent to taking around 15 million passenger cars off the road for 30 years, according to Project draw, a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach the “Drawdown” – the future time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will stop climbing and begin to fall steadily.

Almost half of the solid waste produced in the world is organic or biodegradable. The United States is among the worst offenders.

This is a problem that can be solved both at the individual level and with the leadership of government. The state of Vermont passed a universal recycling law in 2012, similar to the current DEC proposal, prohibiting large garbage generators from throwing out uneaten food and, in 2020, expanded the program to all residents. Vermont is the first state to require food waste to be segregated from other waste, and waste haulers are to provide a pickup service for people who cannot compost at home.

Some New York State municipalities, including some close to their homes, have adopted programs for residents to compost food waste. For decades on this page we’ve been touting the virtues of composting, explaining the relatively simple procedure that turns waste into rich fertilizer.

We are pleased that last week President Joe Biden made it clear that the United States will once again become a world leader in resolving the climate crisis. Its goal of reducing greenhouse gases by almost half by 2030 is ambitious but achievable if we work together. Any of our municipalities or any of us as individuals can help you.

The Albany Common Council recently declared a climate emergency.

“Faced with the possibility of more intense storms, disorderly weather conditions affecting agricultural production, frequent flooding in some areas and droughts in others, the costs for letting this happen are too high,” the Minister said. city ​​councilor Owusu Anane in a statement. , announcing the resolution.

Each of us can make a difference when it comes to leftover food.

More than a third of all food grown in the United States is not eaten. “In 2019, 35% of all food in the United States was unsold or not consumed,” according to REFRIGERATED, a national nonprofit organization that works to end food loss and waste in the U.S. food system.

This loss of $ 408 billion in food is equivalent to about 2% of U.S. gross domestic product, with a greenhouse gas footprint equivalent to 4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

ReFED says the greatest proportion of food waste, around 37 percent, occurs at home. So, while the new DEC Food Waste Regulation is due to come into effect in January to deal with the large generators of food waste, each of us can make a difference in our own home.

We should only buy what we need, what we are actually going to prepare and eat. If we buy locally, food will stay fresher longer, support the local economy, and reduce greenhouse gases from transportation. And, after we have prepared and eaten our food, we have to compost the leftovers.

Our household finances will also improve. A 2020 study in Nutritional Journal found that consumers spent, on average, more than a quarter of their daily food budget on food that ended up wasted, which is over $ 3.50 per day. Meat and seafood accounted for the largest proportion of daily food budgets spent on food waste, followed by fruits and vegetables, grains, sweets and dairy products.

This means that the average American consumer spends about $ 1,300 per year on food that ends up wasted – which is more than the average Americans spend on automobile gasoline ($ 1,250); clothing ($ 1,207); household heating and electricity ($ 1,149); property taxes ($ 1,046); and housekeeping, repairs and insurance ($ 936).

If the arguments to help save the climate are too vague, perhaps saving money will motivate us to stop our massive food waste.

As my grandparents used to say: don’t waste, don’t want.

About Myra R.

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