Grocery stores do it. So do restaurants, schools, farmers, you and I. We all waste food. At the local, state and federal level, discarded food is widely recognized as a serious environmental and socioeconomic problem.
Among the many negatives associated with food waste is the added strain – through excess consumption and production – it places on our finite freshwater resources. Surface waters and groundwater are already under tremendous stress from various industries as well as from climate change, which has intensified the global water cycle causing drought and torrential rains.
What we eat every day represents about 50 percent of our total water footprint, which includes the enormous volume of “virtual water” needed to produce our food. The water footprint concept helps us to better understand, among other things, the complex relationship between agriculture and water resources, and in particular, the water embedded in our food. Given the water-intensive nature of growing, processing, packaging, warehousing, transporting and preparing food, it is not hard to sumise that wasted food means wasted water.
Our food system’s impact on water resources goes beyond water use, withdrawal and consumption; agricultural pollution negatively impacts water quality in groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and estuaries. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural activities that cause pollution include “poorly located or managed animal feeding operations; overgrazing; plowing too often or at the wrong time; and improper, excessive or poorly timed application of pesticides, irrigation water and fertilizer.”
When you crunch the numbers, about 25 percent of all freshwater consumed annually in the US is associated with discarded food. Having trouble visualizing how much water that is? Well, it’s a little more than the volume of Lake Erie.
And yes, wasted food also means wasted energy. Approximately 2.5 percent of the US energy budget is “thrown away” annually as food waste.
Fortunately, many people and organizations have given a lot of thought to how we can reduce food waste and when we can’t reduce it completely companies like BioHitech America have put a lot of thought into how to turn the food waste into new water.