This is how much water you waste when you throw away food (Thinkstock)
This is how much water you waste when you throw away food
Lexile

Food waste is a staggering problem. In 2010, close to 133 billion pounds, or a little over $160 billion worth of food, wound up in U.S. landfills.
 
"There's no benefit to wasting food," says Kai Olson-Sawyer, a senior research and policy analyst at GRACE Communications Foundation. It is an organization that highlights the relationship between food, water and energy resources. "The fact is that food waste is truly a waste to all humanity of every kind."
 
That's because when you toss a rotten apple or a moldy container of leftovers, you're not just throwing away the food. You are tossing all the resources that went into producing it. "It's really important to understand where and how things are grown," says Ruth Mathews. She is executive director of the Water Footprint Network. It is an organization founded in 2008. Its goal is to advance sustainable water use.
 
Water plays a major role in food production. As a result, food waste translates to an enormous amount of water wastage. All foods have a water footprint. That is the direct and indirect water that goes into producing a certain food. But some footprints are larger than others.
 
In general, meats tend to need the most water for production. That is primarily because of the amount of food the animal needs. So for instance, the water footprint of beef includes water that's used to grow the animal's feed and to maintain the farm, as well as drinking water for the animal.
 
Also, larger animals aren't as efficient in terms of meat production as smaller animals, like chickens or turkeys. The bigger beasts therefore have a larger water footprint. Consider this: The water footprint of beef adds up to 1,800 gallons per pound -- think 35 standard-size bathtubs. Meanwhile, a chicken's water footprint is roughly 519 gallons per pound.
 
Almonds, too, have a massive water footprint. It takes more than 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of almonds.  They have been in the news lately for their water-guzzling ways. But it isn't as simple as that when you account for the amount of food wasted.
 
"When food is wasted, it's often because of how we prepare it or how perishable it is," Olson-Sawyer says. "For instance, almonds tend not to spoil as quickly as milk. So less is wasted."
 
In 2010, Americans wasted 23 percent of every pound of beef. It accounted for 400 gallons of water that, quite literally, went down the drain. In general, fruit, vegetables and dairy account for the most consumer waste. Also in 2010, consumers wasted 25 percent of every pound of apples. It ultimately translated to 25 gallons of wasted water.
 
Similarly, it takes roughly 620 gallons of water to produce a dozen eggs. It means that each time we dump an unused egg in the trash, we waste about 50 gallons of water.
 
Food waste has other environmental impacts, too. "If you put all the food waste into one country, it would be the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter," says Brian Lipinski, an associate in the World Resource Institute's Food Program. Decomposing food that makes its way into landfills releases methane, which is significantly more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
 
All is not lost, however. There are numerous efforts underway to cut food loss at every level. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency recently called for a 50-percent reduction in food waste by 2030. Meanwhile, Portland launched a citywide composting program a few years ago. And at the retail level, the former president of Trader Joe's recently opened a store near Boston that sells surplus food donated by grocery stores, at rock-bottom prices.
 
Even simple changes can have big effects. A few years ago, college cafeterias began to go trayless. Carrying two plates at most rather than trays piled high with all-you-can-eat daredevilry forced students to think about what they really wanted to eat. It was a seemingly simple move. More than 120 colleges chose to adopt it. The move helped reduce food consumption and waste. In some colleges, the savings was 25 to 30 percent.
 
Still, waste is inevitable. "There's never going to be some ideal or perfect way to eliminate it all. But it's pretty egregious right now," Olson-Sawyer says. More so, perhaps, because according to the United Nations' World Food Program, "there's enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life."
 
Fortunately, change at any level -- whether it's as a supplier, retailer or consumer -- will help ease the impact of food waste on natural resources. Simply put, "it does matter how much you consume," Mathews says. "It does matter what you consume, especially when you get down to the details of where this is produced and how sustainable is that production."


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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can you measure the water footprint of food?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (144)
  • ben0424-yyca-byo
    6/14/2016 - 02:29 p.m.

    The amount of water in food was something I never considered. Also the amount of water that is wasted when we throw foods away. When I was reading this passage, I thought about this and became aware of how much water I waste when I throw away foods. This should be a much bigger problem. Forget wasting water in baths, showers, or flushing your toilet. Consider how much water you're wasting when you throw away your food! This should be something that is all over the news and more people should realize this.
    Critical Thinking Question Answer: You can measure the water footprint by looking up how much water is used for a certain food.

  • jadej1-bur
    6/26/2016 - 04:19 p.m.

    How you can measure the footprint of food is that you should always eat what you have on your plate because you waste water too.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    7/31/2016 - 10:49 p.m.

    A person can measure the water footprint of food by adding up all the water used to grow it, clean it, and/or hydrate it and feed it (if it had existed as an animal when alive). It's sad to see all the resources that people waste, not only food but also clothing, water, electricity, etc. If people of the modern day were to survive under the conditions of the past, when there was no running water or stores providing everyone with all the food that they need, maybe we would learn to appreciate all that we have.

  • tristanb-pel
    8/09/2016 - 08:58 a.m.

    The way you can measure the water footprint in food is by looking up how much water it takes to grow that kind of food.

  • annac-pel
    8/09/2016 - 09:01 a.m.

    I could measure the water footprints of food by checking how much I feed animals and how much we water the plants until they are fully grown.

  • juliamc-pel
    8/09/2016 - 09:01 a.m.

    Water plays a major role in food production, food waste translates to an enormous amount of water wastage. All foods have a water footprint, that is the direct and indirect water that goes into producing a certain food.

  • laurenw-pel
    8/09/2016 - 09:05 a.m.

    You can do the math.you would have to see how much water per pound then multiply by the pound.

  • oweng-pel
    8/09/2016 - 09:07 a.m.

    How can you measure the water footprint of food? Well,considering that currant foods have an different amount of water footprint the more you eat the more it increases.

  • jessiew-pel
    8/09/2016 - 09:09 a.m.

    You can measure the water footprint by thinking about how much that food product consumes.

  • felixg-pel
    8/09/2016 - 09:14 a.m.

    One way you can measure the water footprint of food is to look it up.

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