Global warming, tainted water, air pollution, fossil fuel consumption, overpopulation, deforestation—it seems that human relationships with the earth are more fraught than ever. The ways in which we encounter our environment can no longer be taken for granted, and many of these conversations are controversial.
However, today we’d like to highlight an issue in sustainability that has been top-of-mind for many Nebraskan manufacturers, retailers, and producers in the last year: Food waste. As a state whose number one industry is agriculture, followed closely by manufacturing (including food manufacturers), this is an important concern.
Food waste statistics aren’t globally uniform, but the most recent numbers we found were certainly alarming. As much as 40% of the U.S. food supply gets tossed out on a daily basis, the equivalent of more than 20 pounds of food per person. Food scraps are the number one material sent to U.S. landfills, and 28% of the world’s land is used annually to produce food that will be wasted.
There are certainly ways individuals can work to counteract this type of waste. For example, only shopping in bulk if you plan on purchasing items with long shelf lives, making the food you buy last longer, and understanding expiration dates and how to work with them are all relatively easy ways to combat food waste.
However, manufacturers and retailers around the state are also working on new ways to reduce food waste. In May, Midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee, Inc. announced that all 25 of its Nebraska stores would partner with environmental solution provider Sanimax to divert organic waste from landfills. In a release, Hy-Vee explained that they would divert excess fruits and veggies, bakery product, solid dairy products, and floral clippings with the Sanimax system, which could then turn the food waste into compost, biogas, and animal feed. Best of all, the Hy-Vee stores began to sell compost created by their own food recycling, creating a more efficient system.
Tally Mertes, store director at the 180th and Pacific Hy-Vee, said that “Hy-Vee is committed to promoting the well-being of our customers, employees, communities, and the global environment. This new recycling program is just one way we can help our communities and our customers.” Mertes estimates that the Hy-Vee stores in Nebraska will divert approximately 150,000 pounds each month. This is an extraordinary number, and an important initiative that we hope other supermarkets will be able to follow.
Nebraska manufacturers are also working to cut food waste. In animal production, approximately half the animal is used for meat, which allows the manufacturer to either dispose of, or “render” the rest of the animal into byproducts. This is a pretty gruesome process, and we won’t outline the details here—if you’re curious about the specifics of meat rendering, you can visit this NETNebraska article to learn more.
For our purposes, the takeaway is that rendering animal tissue has the same effect on greenhouse gas emissions as removing over 12 million cars away from the road each year, no small feat. And although more fruits and vegetables are wasted each year, the environmental impacts of wasting meat are far greater, because it includes growing crops to feed the livestock.
Luckily, we have retailers and manufacturers in Nebraska who are working hard to reduce the environmental impact of food production. This means that on the individual level, it’s up to us to be conscious of the food we waste as well.
Questions? Comments? Want to learn more? Leave a comment in the section below, anytime!
Photo credit: SheKnows