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The Most Effective Climate Change Solution

The recent celebration of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary this April has put a spotlight on climate change and the various solutions that can remedy a warming world. You may have heard about solar panels, electric cars, and meatless diets as a way to combat this worldwide problem but what exactly is the most effective climate change solution?



According to Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization that quantifies climate change strategies, reducing food waste is the single greatest solution to bring about climate change. Reducing food waste draws carbon out of the atmosphere and draws it down into the ground (where it belongs). Reducing food waste has the potential to draw 87 gigatons (GT) of CO2 out of the atmosphere, more than a plant-based diet (64 GT), electric cars (12 GT), regenerative agriculture (15 GT), even utility-scale solar panels (42 GT)!


Up to 40% of food produced for human consumption is wasted, adding up to billions of tons and hundreds of billions of dollars per year. It’s the single largest contributor to municipal landfills, coming from restaurants, grocery stores, and farms themselves. Once in the landfill, the food from your fridge releases methane which is a greenhouse gas much more powerful than CO2. So if you want to help the environment, a great way to do it is to not let food that enters your home in a grocery bag leave in a trash bag. In short, reduce the amount of food you throw out.


When you throw out a bunch of bananas you never got around to eating, the impact on the environment is not only from the methane emitted from the bananas in the landfill; the true impact comes from: the deforestation of a rainforest to make room for the corner of the farm that grows food that will never be eaten; the nutrients in the banana peel, which have value but no market; the semi-truck hauling the portion of its load destined for the trash; and the grocery store’s fluorescent lights shining down on to-be-wasted produce.


The beauty of food waste reduction as a strategy to address climate change is that virtually anyone can participate. Here are a couple suggestions to how can you contribute to a food system in which all food goes to its highest and best use:


---Don’t throw away food. To make this easier, try buying less at a time. If you eat 100% of the food you buy, you’ll save more than $1,000 per year, the average amount we spend on food we end up tossing in the trash. At the very least, food should be composted, where nutrients are retained to turn healthy soil back into food.

---Donate extra food or money to food rescue organizations. An important player in food waste reduction is the network of hundreds of food rescue organizations around the world, rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste and providing it to food insecure populations. The work these organizations do is critical, especially in times of uncertainty (e.g., global pandemic).


It is important to note that while food waste reduction is one of the most important solutions doesn’t mean it’s the only solution. An eight percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is significant, however; if we completely eliminate food waste we’re still left with the other 92% to deal with. There’s still no silver bullet, but before you go spending $15,000 on solar panels or $100,000 on a Tesla, even small steps can help so consider reducing your food waste first.


For more information on strategies for reducing your food waste, go to browncountyrecycling.org/program-details and sign up for Brown County’s Food Waste & Organics Drop-off Program. The program is free and easy to use!