Food waste produces a number of woes – Columbia Daily Tribune

“If you want dessert, you have to eat a bit more of your dinner first.”

Or perhaps you have heard that you should finish your plate because there are starving people in the world and we shouldn’t waste food. We are wasting a lot of it and, because of that, we are wasting a lot of energy too.

Food waste in America

U.S. Department of Agriculture research has found the United States wastes nearly 40 percent of its food supply. That comes to more than 130 billion pounds of food thrown away in just the United States every year, which is valued at $161 billion a year.

That is a lot of food, but it is more than that. It is also wasting lots of valuable energy. Every bit of food you eat takes land, water, labor and energy to create.

Take an apple, for example. That apple required lots of water, labor from a farmer and energy to clean and process it. It then had to be loaded onto trucks and taken to a store. Once someone buys that apple, it is all too often thrown away after just a couple of bites. And that is just the story of an apple — a food that takes little processing. You wouldn’t believe how much energy it takes to create a hamburger!

More:Why your brain dreams to defend itself

Food waste numbers

You and your dinner plate are not completely responsible for food waste. There are other factors too. Here are some numbers to consider.

— Twelve percent of food waste comes during the harvesting cycle. Farming equipment that misses or destroys food, or food that was not harvested in time, contributes to this number.

— Ten percent of food waste comes from processing and packaging. Product left over after packaging contributes to this loss.

— Thirty-eight percent of food loss comes from inadequate food storage. Spoiling because of warm temperatures or invasion by rodents contributes to this number.

— Forty percent of food waste comes from consumers. Any food thrown away at home, schools or restaurants contributes to this loss.

What can you do?

The message here isn’t just “Eat all of your food!” If we personally ate all the food we currently waste, we likely would be rather unhealthy — which wouldn’t save us any energy resources. Instead, it comes down to proper planning. Here are some examples of what you can do at home and at school.

At home

Don’t buy something just because it is on sale. Have a plan for how you are going to use it first. Creating a weekly menu saves you a lot of money — and the world a lot of energy. Use those leftovers at home, and take home leftovers from restaurants. For energy savings, buy foods with less packaging. For example, bottled water is overpriced and a huge waste of resources.

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At school

Scheduling recess right after lunch is a bad idea. Schools with recess before lunch have as much as 30 percent less food waste. Schools that increase lunch periods from 20 to 30 minutes reduced food waste by 33 percent. Allow students to keep or donate a lunch or breakfast item for later in the day. Providing food and energy for our ever-growing population is going to be a big problem for the next generation.

Food waste has huge environmental impacts. But if you are someone who doesn’t care about the environment — and that’s a shame! — you might be interested to know that it has a huge impact on your wallet too.

Mike Szydlowski is science coordinator for Columbia Public Schools. 


1. Do you think our country wastes more or less food than other countries? Why?

2. What energy do you think goes into making a hamburger?

3. If a family bought 300 pounds of food in a month, how much of that would actually be consumed?

4. If the same family spent $500 on the food above, how much money did they waste?

5. Why is it better to create a weekly menu for your family?


1. What is not completely correct about older models of the brain you might see in a textbook or online? 

Older models of the brain label very distinct areas of the brain and what they control.  Scientists now know that the divisions are not so clear or lasting.  

2. Why did the blindfolded group learn braille quicker? 

The sight part of the brain was not being used by the blindfolded group, so the brain started to use some of that space to enhance the sense of touch. 

3. Why might it be more difficult to learn a new skill when you get older? 

Your brain does not re-arrange as rapidly as you age, so new skills may not be mastered as quickly.  

4. If an older adult sleeps for eight hours, how many hours did they dream? 

10 hours x 20% = 2 hours of dreaming 

5. What is the purpose of a dream according to this research? 

A dream makes sure the visual part of your brain stays active, so it is not replaced with other things.