OPINION: Reducing food waste feeds a healthy climate

In August 2021, a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared climate change as “widespread, rapid, and intensifying.” That information was no surprise to Michigan residents who have endured increasingly severe rainstorms, flooding, and power outages in the last two years. Still, the extreme weather and the report’s urgent call to lower emissions demands that we take all possible actions to meet this moment.

In Michigan, our government understands the urgency of becoming carbon neutral and has developed the MI Healthy Climate Plan to reach this goal. Before it’s finalized in March 2022, the plan must make food waste reduction a key component in order to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.

In 2019, Project Drawdown’s rigorous review of climate solutions concluded that food loss and waste reduction is the most effective solution to climate change. Consequently, the United Nations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Council of Mayors have all committed to reducing wasted food.

Simply put, we don’t consume 40% of the food we grow, and that volume of waste has an incredible impact. The average family of four wastes at least $1,500 a year in uneaten food. Imagine walking out of the grocery store with five bags of groceries and leaving two in the parking lot. Think for a moment about the resources that went into those two bags of food: the water, land, transportation, packaging, labor, and your own money.

Consider the people in the community who experience food insecurity who could benefit from those two bags of groceries. Understand that when food decomposes in a landfill, it releases methane, the most potent greenhouse gas. Multiplying this example across the state means we unnecessarily put 1.8 billion pounds of food in Michigan landfills in 2019 alone.

Make Food Not Waste, Food Rescue US Detroit, and FoodPLUS Detroit have shared recommendations for policies and initiatives to drive down the volume of food waste in the state, including preventing waste, sharing food, and diverting food from landfills. Better policies around “best by” dates allow for safe food to be available longer. New York City addressed this by eliminating unnecessary dates on milk. Household education campaigns in Minnesota, Oregon, Florida, California, Colorado, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia help individuals curb their household food waste.

A comprehensive composting program diverts food from landfills and enriches our soil. And further reducing food donation liability, as in Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Oregon, would help feed the 1 in 7 Michiganders facing food insecurity.

In Michigan, we are seeing businesses and organizations becoming more active in food waste reduction. Meijer has invested in technology to drive sales of food before sell-by dates. Food Rescue US – Detroit and Metro Food Rescue recover surplus food for people who experience food insecurity. FoodPLUS Detroit, BioWorks Energy, Detroit Dirt, Midtown Composting and others have created programs around collecting and processing food scraps. And our own organization, Make Food Not Waste, started the Upcycling Kitchen to turn surplus food into meals for the community and is working with 30 Detroit restaurants on a food waste reduction certification, The PLEDGE on Food Waste

Food waste reduction is not the climate change solution most Michiganders are focused on. They may be surprised to see their state legislators enacting policies around this issue. Yet food waste reduction is one of the most effective and beneficial solutions for both the climate and Michigan businesses and households.

By incorporating our recommendations into the MI Healthy Climate Plan, we can reap even greater benefits for our communities, our wallets, and our climate. To tell Michigan to focus on food waste in the MI Healthy Climate Plan, visit http://www.michigan.gov/climate.  


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