In the spirit of Earth Day, save food and the planet

Turning food waste into compost

Earth Farms Organics in Dallas turns food waste into garden soil.
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Earth Farms Organics in Dallas turns food waste into garden soil.

As children, our parents chastised us about wasting food because there were children starving elsewhere in our neighborhoods and around the world. It was a reminder to not take for granted the bounty at our disposal because there were others with tremendous need. While this unfortunately remains a compelling reason to worry about food waste, there is another dire cause for concern: the present and future threat of climate change.

Waste happens at every stage of the food production process. Whether it’s grocery stores rejecting misshapen but perfectly nutritious vegetables, farmers lacking equipment and leaving fields unharvested, or families disposing of old produce from the crisper drawer, there is unnecessary waste at every step of the supply chain. Today, it is estimated that more than a third of all food in the United States ends up in landfills.

When it comes to impacts on the climate, all those scraps add up: the United Nations estimates that 8 percent of carbon and methane pollution globally is the result of food waste. That pollution comes in many forms: methane released from rotting landfills; wasted energy spent processing; transporting food; and more. It’s clear that any comprehensive effort to tackle climate change must address food waste as a major contributor to this problem.

In an effort to address this issue, the Trump administration recently took the step of announcing a collaborative effort between the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to tackle the problem of food waste, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of climate change in the announcement. Unfortunately, in an administration rife with former coal lobbyists and climate science deniers, such an omission seems par for the course.

Regardless, there’s no denying the urgency of the climate crisis facing our country and planet, and the need for leaders at all levels of government to act where this administration has woefully fallen short. As a person of faith, I’ve always taken to heart the imperative to be a good steward of the Earth. As inhabitants of this planet, we have a fundamental moral obligation to protect and preserve it—as a means of loving our neighbors and the children of all species.

Here in North Carolina, we’ve seen the impacts of climate change first hand. Many communities across our state are still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Florence, which led to flooding and property damage for many North Carolinians and is estimated to have cost up to $22 billion. Furthermore, in North Carolina, more than 450,000 people are living in areas at elevated risk of inland flooding. If we don’t take immediate action to fight climate change, these extreme weather events will become our new normal.

Confronting the threat that climate change poses to our planet means marshaling every resource at our disposal. Investing in renewable energy sources is a huge part of that effort, but we cannot afford to ignore the incredible impact that minimizing food waste could have. Although the current administration is lacking in urgency for this climate crisis, the capacity for our local and state leaders to act is enormous. For example, municipal composting programs have proven to be enormously successful at recycling food scraps into useable fertilizer. Perhaps the most significant solution lies in our very own refrigerators; we can have a massive impact simply by consciously planning our meals and re-purposing excess produce so that nothing goes to waste.

At North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of resources for communities and congregations looking to take action on this issue. On this Earth Day, we must reflect upon the obligation that we have as moral beings to change what we can in our communities. Food is what nourishes us – it need not be what destroys us.

Sarah Ogletree, Food Program Coordinator at North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light in Raleigh.