More food than we can eat? America’s food waste problem

By Russell Penasa; Zero Waste Team member

In January I had the opportunity to help out with the Food waste audit. After a few hours of watching plates of half eaten cheese burgers and weird combinations of mushed french fries, ketchup, salads and mystery sauces, we ended up collecting 391.5 pounds of food waste from the San Juan Dining Hall. These numbers made me wonder if there was a similar trend throughout the U.S. I found that there is a larger trend that poses a few interesting issues.

In the United States there is an expanding gap between the food we produce and hungry mouths across the country. According to nokidhungry.org, “today in the United States, 25 percent of households with children living in large cities are food-insecure, and 48.8 million Americans live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.” Our neighboring state New Mexico, has the largest percentage of child food insecurity in the country, where 30.6 percent of children are food insecure. Is there a lack of food in the U.S.? There is certainly a vast amount of industrial agriculture across the nation accounting for 51 percent of the U.S. land base.

According to one ecologist, most of the feed produced for the meat industry of the U.S., “could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat.”

Although industrial agriculture systems deserve a lot of criticism, which includes many other ecological issues, the real question is: where is this void between food and the people that need it? In a report done by the USDA, 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of the avail­able food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. This represents 133 billion pounds of food that went straight into landfills, estimated to be worth $161.6 billion dollars using retail prices. This represents 1,249 calories per capita, per day, for the entire population of the United States.

So do we have more food than we can eat? Based on the information above, it would prove so. It seems the dis-connection between food and the hungry comes from a lack of infrastructure, a gap between businesses and the community, and some type of pattern of wastefulness that is very unique to our nation. Maybe we take availability of food for granted? Either way, there is something we can do.

On our campus only about 20-21 percent of the food waste that is generated in the dining halls gets composted. Certain infrastructure limitations are inevitable; however, groups like The Durango Food Bank work with 30 local agencies to meet the food needs of our community and play an important role in closing this looming gap. On campus, the Grub Hub also provides free food to students, and is an active group in creating a more socially just community. Keep those plates clean!

 

References:

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat

https://www.nokidhungry.org/problem/hunger-facts

http://endhunger.org/PDFs/2014/USDA-FoodLoss-2014-Summary.pdf

http://endhunger.org/food_waste.htm

http://rt.com/usa/us-food-waste-usda-618/

 

The Durango Food Bank/Grub Hub links:

https://www.facebook.com/DurangoFoodBank/info

http://www.fortlewis.edu/news/StudentCalendar/ModuleID/15695/ItemID/13028/mctl/EventDetails.aspx

The consequences of commodity consumption

Many aspects of our daily lives include the use of a disposable material, whether it is made of plastic, paper or metals. All of these items come from a resource somewhere on earth, and while a zero waste standard is undoubtedly unachievable, reducing their use to attain a higher level of efficiency is crucial. In regards to paper coffee cups, it may be easy to imagine the consequences of using them, like millions of trees cut down and the emission of greenhouse gases. The word “paper” may make seem like less of an impact, but most coffee cups are coated with polyethylene, making composting very uncommon. In a report done by the Alliance for Environmental Innovation (April 2000), they stated, “…the majority of customers take their hot beverages in disposable paper cups lined with polyethylene and topped with a polystyrene lid. In the past, two paper cups were frequently nested together for better insulation”. The fundamental design of the paper coffee cup and Styrofoam cups is the main contributor to these negative impacts, as they’re one-time-use materials.

Single-use products waste the environment, symbolized by this coffee cup disposed of improperly and only after one use.
Photo by: Environmental Action Association

The number of coffee cups used by Americans on a daily basis is very staggering, and with the majority of Americans drinking coffee regularly, the waste adds up at a very tremendous rate. “Over 50 percent of Americans over 18 years of age drink coffee every day. This represents over 150 million daily drinkers. It means that Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day or equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world” (Environmental Action Association). On top of using 400 million cups for coffee a day, the amount of waste this produces is remarkable, and disposable containers, like coffee cups, make up a significant segment of American trash output. “These disposable containers make up 18 percent of America’s garbage, and beverage cups made of virgin paper or Styrofoam make up a large chunk of that waste”  (Environmental Action Association). That is a very high rate of waste output for a one-time-use disposable commodity. Not only is it unnecessary, but in this country, it has become way too easy to be wasteful.  This rate of consumption is having serious effects on our environment: “Each paper cup manufactured is responsible for 0.24 lbs. of CO2 emissions” (Environmental Action Association). That means that if we throw away just half of the cups we currently consume, there is still going to be 48 million pounds of CO2 emissions delivered by Americans straight into the atmosphere every day. Paper cups also play a small part in deforestation: “…more than 6.5 million trees were cut down in 2006 to create the 16 billion paper cups thrown away” (Tabakin). With this in mind, the solution does not just call for more biodegradable and compost-able containers, but for an elimination of our overall output of waste itself.

Using reusable cups or mugs is the best way to make a difference, and while there still are environmental impacts in their production, over time it is much less wasteful, and can even be cost effective. “A study done by sustainability engineer Pablo Päster found that one stainless steel mug is equivalent to 24 paper cups in terms of material intensity” (Carry Your Cup). The long run is what counts when searching for more efficient material use, and reusing is the most maintainable way to reduce the negative characteristics of using paper cups. Choose to re-use!

Works Cited

“A Report of the Starbucks Coffee Company.” Alliance for Environmental Innovation Joint Task Force.  15 April. 2000. Web. 19 Feb. 2013

“Carry Your Cup.” Get the Facts. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

“Save a Cup, Save the Earth.” Environmental Action Association. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

Tabakin, Dudley. “Deforestation and Coffee Cups.” Blogspot.com. 1 Feb 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

Image from: http://www.environmentaa.org/images/image24.jpg

 

By Russell Penasa, Zero Waste Team member

Zero Waste Is a Challenge Faced

I am a member of the Zero Waste Team here at the Environmental Center and I am very excited about the project I’m working on this year! Emma Kurfis, another Zero Waste Team member, and I are working on a Zero Waste Event Service Guide specific to Fort Lewis College. This guide will be available to everyone on campus and hopefully used by all of the event coordinators. We can also directly get involved with event coordinators to tailor the service to their specific event. To gain experience in the event planning process, we are working on several pilot events in which we partner with event coordinators to reduce the amount of waste produced at event. Skyfest is our next big pilot event, taking place on April 7th.

Skyfest music festival at Fort Lewis College

Skyfest is the highlight of the spring semester for many students, with bands from all over the country visiting FLC campus. Skyfest was outdoors in previous years. Photo courtesy of www.fortlewis.edu.

Skyfest is a big music festival put on by Student Union Productions at Fort Lewis each year, with headliner bands Gramatik and Radical Something making appearances at this year’s festival. Local bands will also play at the event. As part of the EC’s zero waste event service, Emma and I are working with the coordinators of Skyfest to reduce waste in as many aspects of the event as possible. This event is our first large pilot event to test out the service and in the organizing we have learned how challenging it can be to make an event less wasteful. There are so many areas to consider when planning a zero waste event, some of which are not in our control, as we are not the coordinators of the event. However, the coordinators are very open to our suggestions, which is awesome! Members of SUP have been supportive of our ideas and came up with a few ideas themselves. One of the main goals of our event servicing is to provide zero waste ideas and ingrain zero waste concepts in the minds of the coordinators, so that eventually event planners may attempt to make events less wasteful on their own.

There are several major aspects of Skyfest where we are working on to reduce the amount of waste produced. The first is trash. Ideally, we would like to have no trash produced at the event but this is highly unrealistic being that we can’t regulate what food or disposable items people bring into the event. However, we will be providing several recycling stations in the event to divert as as many recyclable items from landfills as possible. We are recruiting volunteers to help watch over the stations to ensure everything is recycled properly, as contamination is a huge problem with recycling here at Fort Lewis. This will also be a chance for us to spread some education on recycling to the campus community.

The second aspect of the event we are working with is water. When we first talked to the coordinators, they were going to provide bottled water for guests and the bands. We decided to set up water refilling stations instead. With the help of the Athletic Department, we secured several large water jugs for the event that we will refill throughout the event. Students are not allowed to bring full water bottles into the event but if they bring empty drink containers, they can fill them at the stations. There will also be a jug backstage for the bands. The coordinators of Skyfest are purchasing reusable plastic cups that they will hand out to anyone who does not have a water bottle. The cups can be taken home by guests and used or given back to the Skyfest coordinators to be washed and reused at different events.

At Skyfest, we will have an Environmental Center interactive table to teach people about zero waste, specifically recycling. There will be a game called the “Wheel of Recycling” that guests can take part in. After the event, we plan to measure our results by weighing how much trash and recycling were generated at the event. We can potentially take these statistics every year and compare results, aiming to reduce the amounts annually.

As you can imagine, the process of planning zero waste events can take a lot of time and can be very difficult. This process also involves lots of collaboration with other campus and sometimes community partners, and can also build great connections.

If you would like to volunteer to help with the waste reduction practices at Skyfest, please email one of us (below) or drop by the Environmental Center and sign up. The event is on Sunday, April 7th from noon to 9:30 p.m. in the Whalen Gymnasium. The event is free for students and $15 for community members, with tickets available in the SUP office in the Student Union. Come support Fort Lewis College and the environment!

For more information about the zero waste aspects of the event or the Zero Waste Event Servicing, you can email me (jmsmyke@fortlewis.edu) or Emma Kurfis (emkurfis@fortlewis.edu) or stop by the Environmental Center! For more information about Skyfest, you can visit the SUP office in the Student Union.

By Jessica Smyke

Reflections on a Zero Waste New Year’s Resolution

I’ve recently been thinking about my New Year’s Resolution, which is to make as little harmful ecological impact as possible in the year 2013.The resolution is a promise to the world and to myself that I will live as a ‘No Impact Woman’ or at least, a ‘Least Impact Woman.’ For me, this means not buying anything new, not using electricity or other resources beyond my needs, and doing everything in my power to cancel out any negative impacts of my current lifestyle. My original inspiration to take on this resolution came from the book No Impact Man: The Reflections of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries he Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life Along the Way.In this book, author Colin Beaven embarks on a zero waste adventure that most would consider impossible. Yet, after reading this, I decided I would like to try and live as zero waste as possible to see what results would come about. While I do everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint through my daily actions, I have found that it is impossible to fully eliminate it. After all, I am a carbon-based life form and when I die, I will leave an even greater footprint. Still, every action we perform has effects; I will list some of my current lifestyle changes and maybe motivate some folks to take similar steps in their lives.

No Impact Man

In the book, No Impact Man, an ambitious man and his family try to live zero waste lifestyles in the heart of New York City. Photo used by Fair Use.

The first change I made was getting rid of my cell phone. Since this makes my mother concerned for my safety, I keep the phone for emergencies but turn it off at all times so it never needs to be plugged in and waste electricity. I also do not give out my phone number to anyone, even possible job requests and instead give out my email due to the fact that the school computers stay on 24/7, therefore reducing an ecological impact that I have very little control over (unless I was to go around and turn them all off). Also, my friend and I turn off the televisions in the Student Union when we can so that these do not waste energy.

As for food choices, I eat vegan unless food will otherwise be wasted (such as pasta with cheese on someone else’s plate) and, since I have a Sodexo meal plan, I always observe the food choices first so as to not choose food that is most likely packaged or from long distances (such as bananas and coffee). I refrain from drinking tea because of the bag and I bring my reusable water bottle everywhere. I have never tried soda so this is not a beverage I had to give up since I never drank it in the first place.

In addition, I do not buy any products at all and I certainly do not use non-reusable items such as paper coffee mugs and napkins. I also do not buy any clothes (all of my clothes are second hand or from free boxes… I currently put on the FLC Environmental Center Free Store every Thursday, from 9-11 a.m. in the Student Union) and I do not buy any appliances or items unless they are offered to me. I try not to keep lights on during the day and I like to spread environmental awareness to the as many people as I can. Additionally, I try to limit computer use and if there is anything I am doing that is not ecologically sustainable or beneficial, I do my best to stop the habit or action immediately. I do not own a car and when I can, I avoid flying home and try to hitch a ride with a friend. I do not watch any movies or television unless this action may help to make someone else more aware of environmental issues and thus counterbalances the effect of watching the television. I also do not wear makeup due to the terrible effect it has on the environment.

I don’t want people to feel jealous because it doesn’t feel good. When people feel jealous, I have often observed they consume more due to feelings of inadequacy that may come up for them and then they may (depending on the person) go out and consume and waste items more, thus contributing more to the global carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. I also wake up at five in the morning to meditate so as to begin the day with positive aspirations and thoughts. This mindfulness meditation helps keep me aware of how I am impacting others and the environment throughout the day. I also have made a promise to the world and myself that I will remain celibate so as to not have to use condoms (terribly unsustainable) and I don’t want to marry or have kids due to population growth.

In essence, I think anyone can implement any of these zero waste suggestions and make a positive impact on the state of the world.  As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and in fact, we can. Little by little, step-by-step, we can influence a society and culture and rise up as an ecologically aware population at Fort Lewis College through any or all of our efforts.

By Michaela Steiner

My Zero Waste Inspiration

Bea Johnson never takes out the trash. She is not lazy or a hoarder but rather a pioneer in the field of zero waste living. Bea and her family choose to act and purchase in ways that have as little impact on the environment as possible. Beginning with small changes and gradually implementing larger ones, the Johnson family completely changed their way of life over the course of a few years. Bea only buys clothes second hand and repairs or tailors them when needed, fills a reusable container with homemade toothpowder that she uses on her compostable toothbrush and harnesses solar energy to power her family’s house. Claiming to find ways to reduce waste addicting, Bea and her family say their alternative and revolutionary lifestyle has made them much happier.

Before learning about Bea Johnson and her family, I lived my life similar to how they did before they migrated towards zero waste. I took long showers, I threw out things without a second thought and I didn’t consider how my consumption affected the environment. I believed I maintained an eco-friendly lifestyle because I recycled and used an aluminum water bottle but in actuality, I was nowhere close to living green.  On the fateful day I stumbled across an article on Yahoo about the “zero waste family,” I thought about every aspect of the world in a completely new way.

produce in cloth bags

Using cloth bags to purchase produce from the grocery store is more eco-friendly than using disposable plastic ones and some bags even have nice designs. Photo courtesy of Emma Kurfis.

Bea lives by the phrase: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. By applying this motto to every aspect of their lives, Bea and her family now only throw away enough trash in one year to fill up a single 1.5 liter Le Parfait jar. Amazing. Fascinated by this and the idea of being so waste-free, I read more of her blog posts and tried to take some of her ideas and use them in my quest to reduce my own carbon footprint. For example, I try to remember my cloth grocery and produce bags every time I go to the store, I typically use the Durango T to get downtown and I take the time to make sure my recyclables are clean and on the list of acceptable items for the city of Durango. It is quite difficult to become completely zero waste as a college student but any small changes can make a big difference, thus I am providing a list of a few tips that are simple and easy to apply to college life.

  • Refuse what you do not need. Refuse buying bottled water if your tap water is clean and safe to drink. Refuse freebie items handed out at fairs, events and even in the student union to avoid creating the demand to make more and accumulating junk you don’t need.
  • Reduce what you do need. Donate rarely used items to local thrift shops or the FLC Free Store to de-clutter your home. The Free Store is open every Thursday in the Student Union from 9-11 a.m.; donations are welcome and appreciated.
  • Reuse by using reusables. Taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store, bringing your own thermos to the coffee shop and using a refillable water bottle all easily prevent a great amount of waste from accumulating in landfills.
  • Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. With single stream recycling now in Durango, recycling is easier than ever! However, be sure to know how to properly recycle everything because if recycling on campus gets too contaminated, it gets sent to the landfill! The guidelines for Durango recycling can be found here: http://www.durangogov.org/DocumentCenter/View/589 .
  • Rot (compost) the rest. Create a composting system that works for your home and lifestyle. The on-campus dining hall composts food waste but if you live off campus, look into composting your food waste. Composting is made easy here: http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/green-living/how-to-compost-00000000021888/index.html.

For more information on zero waste living and the Johnson family, visit the Zero Waste Home blog at http://www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com.

 

– Emma Kurfis