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What a waste: Jonathan Bloom wants the US to reduce its food waste problem

In the United States more than 34 million tons of food is wasted annually. Much of it ends up in landfills, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

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“Ninety-seven percent of food waste ends up in landfills, where it is harmful to the environmental because it produces methane,” he says. “I try to get people to divert food waste away from landfills by whatever means they can.” He suggests donating leftover food to food banks, which have recently been reporting a shortage of donations, or using food waste for compost.

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Food waste, which has increased 50 percent since 1974, also comes at a significant economic cost. The average family of four throws out an estimated $1,350 worth of food annually.  US supermarkets throw away around 30 million pounds of food every day. Mr. Bloom, who gives talks to chefs and restaurant servers, says that while it’s easy for restaurants to understand the economic cost of food waste, there remains pressure to get customers to order more food than they need.

“There is a little bit of tension when I talk about getting consumers not to waste food. If you are a server that would mean encouraging people to buy less food,” which would mean a smaller bill and less tips. “Most chefs don’t want their food to be thrown out. My job is to communicate to them the ethical, environmental, and economic costs of food waste,” he says.

Through his work on American Wasteland and his blog, Mr. Bloom has noticed that more people are starting to understand why food waste is a problem.

“I have seen a shift in the way that food waste is being discussed,” he noted. “It’s a long time coming, but people are starting to realize that something must be done to address the fact that so much food is wasted.”

• Graham Salinger is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

This article first appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute.

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