I visited a local McDonald’s recently and had an incident which made me feel uneasy about restaurant policies regarding food waste. I ordered a sandwich that was brought to me not as I expected, so the lady behind the counter proceeded to dump the sandwich in the garbage in front of me as she went about ordering me another sandwich. I found it to be rude in some way, almost, insulting. Although I understand the sandwich cannot be sold again to another person, but she should have offered for me either to take it as well or at least taken it to the back discreetly to discard. So many starving people in the world seems a real shame.

The United States produces approximately 591 billion pounds of food each year, and up to half of it goes to waste. The cycle of food waste goes beyond the unsold hamburgers shoveled into restaurant trash bins. Food waste begins at farms, vegetables and fruits that don’t meet the standards are left in the fields to rot. Often it’s just because they don’t look good enough to be brought to the market. Farm losses are generally higher for hand-picked fruit and perishable vegetables than machine-harvested crops such as wheat and corn. Transportation is the next big loss of food. All that we buy in our supermarkets has to travel a distance to reach us, further depending on the area that we live. In transit losses can reach 10% to 15% for some crops, with the most fragile ones being more vulnerable, like tomatoes and grapes for example.

U.S. supermarkets are one the most to blame for wasted food. They throw away on average 30 million pounds of food per year. This includes expired products, damaged goods, dented boxes and the like. Some of the unwanted food gets composted or donated, but most of it ends up in landfills. Researchers also estimate that American households waste 15% to 25% of the food they purchase, but that figure could be even higher. Commercial kitchens (in schools, hospitals and restaurants) also discard unwanted food for many reasons. Leftovers are rarely taken home which is a large contribution to food waste in the restaurant industry. Food scraps are the second largest component of the national waste-stream. Food in landfills creates methane, a source of greenhouse gas. In addition, 2% of all U.S. Energy Consumption goes into food that is ultimately thrown out.

Needless to say getting unwanted foods to shelters and other resources is down and out. Perhaps we can organize more ways to make this a reality instead of a dream. As for our environment, composting should become mandatory in households. Seattle and San Francisco already made this mandatory in 2009, Norway has banned food and biodegradable waste from it landfills. Small steps are better than none at all.