With references to climate change and global warming now removed from most government websites and Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, confirmed as secretary of state, our attention to environmental issues needs to be stronger than ever before. NASA reports that 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and that human activity is the primary cause. People are causing the excessive amount of greenhouse gases — gases trapped in the earth’s atmosphere causing the surface temperature to rise, similar to an actual greenhouse.
These scientists have overwhelming evidenceto suggest climate change is happening. NASA also reports that since the 19th century, the average global temperature has risen by a degree and a half, and each year since 1977 has resulted in a higher average global temperature than the 20th century average. Shockingly, 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century. But an increase in the earth’s temperature is not the only consequence to climate change.
Snow and rainfall patterns have shifted in places, including Indiana. We are now receiving about 15 percent more precipitation than we did in the early 20th century, while Southern California is receiving about 15 percent less, the Environmental Protection Agency reports. Ice caps are melting, oceans are warming and sea levels are rising. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are the problem, but do the American people feel the same way?
A 2014 Pew Research Center poll reports that about 71 percent of Americans said the government should do whatever it takes to protect the environment. Democrats are known for being more aggressive about taking action on climate change, with 88 percent calling for action from the government. Half of Republicans also think we should do whatever we can to protect the environment.
Dana Gunders, senior scientist of the Food and Agriculture Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote several years ago that removing trays from cafeterias discourages people from taking excess food and reduces food waste by 30 percent.
There is no legislation requiring and standardizing “sell-by” or “use before” dates on food, except for infant formula. So instead of immediately tossing out milk once it hits the expiration date, try smelling or tasting it before you throw it away. You will not die from drinking milk that has exceeded the expiration date by several days.
The Department of Agriculture states there is no universal system for food dating or labeling. While some states have their own laws, they differ between each other and other areas where no food is dated. Grocery stores and other retailers throw out tons of food for not being “attractive” enough. Just like with people, if it is not the right size or shape, businesses think Americans will not like it. You are not perfect and your food does not need to be either. By eating “ugly” food, you are saving food from being dumped in landfills and helping the environment.
Wasting less food is a selfless personal endeavor, in addition to just being the decent thing to do. As stated in a 2013 U.S. News and World Report article, a family of four wastes between $1,365 and $2,275 annually by tossing out food and beverages. Wasting that much hurts the environment, the chronically hungry and your wallet.
The EPA says almost 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the agriculture sector. Because food is wasted, these emissions are greater than they should be. It is not just enough to identify the problems associated with food waste, we must also examine potential solutions.
On a personal level, better food planning and self-control while shopping can be beneficial. Impulse purchases are often wasted and while buy one, get one free deals are great for the wallet, they can lead to more waste because you may be buying more than you need.
Promotions, bulk purchases and grocery store deals encourage you to spend and possibly waste more. Planning meals and sticking to a list can help you avoid impulse buys. Understanding food labeling is one of the most important ways to help control food waste. Do not live and die by “sell by” and “best by” dates. Often times, you can tell by looking, smelling or tasting a food item whether or not it has gone bad. On a larger scale, if the government got involved in environmental protection legislation, new policies could help with waste management.
Currently, there are few to no tax incentives for donating food — by individuals or by corporations. Corporations, especially large food manufacturers, could donate food they do not deem worthy to sell, but not bad enough to throw away. Starting a compost pile is also beneficial. Live Science states that landfills are meant to hold waste not break it down. Because of how landfills are created, even natural waste such as apple cores do not decompose as quickly as they would in nature or a compost pile. Compost piles work because the water and soil provide the perfect environment to aid in the process. Composting helps save space with less trash going to landfills, but it’s also beneficial for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute heavily to global warming. Growing up, our parents said we needed to be clean platers or we wouldn’t get dessert. As we grew older, the joke became that any leftover food would either go to waste or to our waist. As we learn more about greenhouse gases, global warming and food waste issues, let us choose the unstated third option: to not waste our resources.