Food Waste Increases Global Warming

Thanksgiving is one of the most wasteful times of the year, with 200 million pounds of turkey alone tossed out annually. Three times more food waste occurs between Thanksgiving and New Years than other times of the year.
November 19, 2021

According to the NRDC, the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the most wasteful times of the year, with 200 million pounds of turkey alone tossed out annually.

Three times more food waste occurs between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Cooking the same dishes for each year also leads to mass production of ingredients like turkey and cranberries, which puts undue stress on food systems.

Almost nine out of every ten American families eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and just four industrial agriculture corporations produce at least half of those turkeys.

The industrial process of raising these turkeys releases large amounts of CO2 emissions.  It also takes almost 1 million barrels of oil to produce and ship turkeys across the country.

Food waste is a bigger problem than many people realize.  Nearly one-third of all food produced in the world is discarded or wasted for various reasons. That equates to nearly 1.3 billion tons every year.  Wasting food contributes to environmental pollution as well as to natural resources degradation and depletion, threatening food security.  Discarded food is sent to landfills, where it rots and produces methane gas, which is the second most common greenhouse gas. In other words, throwing out your food contributes to climate change.

Avoiding Meat and Dairy has the Greatest Environmental Impact

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the a comprehensive analysis of the damage farming does to the planet.  The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, because cheese takes so much milk to produce, it’s associated with greater greenhouse gas emissions than animal products like pork, eggs, and chicken.

The research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

Cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to immediately slow the rate of global warming, even as we decarbonize our energy systems.  Methane is the primary contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas.  It is 80 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.  

Even if we pinpointed the worst offenders in oil and gas, its other sources would still require sweeping societal change, like a reduction in the number of cows raised for food. And revamping our subsidy system for the energy and food industries, which continue to reward fossil fuels.  Or setting new rules and incentives for sectors like farming, deforestation and waste management.  

Fish Farms

Freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of fish in Asia and 96% in Europe, was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. But because of the excreta and unconsumed feed at the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, it is the perfect environment for methane production, a potent greenhouse gas, said Poore, one of the researchers.


Organics make up the largest portion of our trash cans: 30%, to be exact. In a landfill, this trapped organic material releases methane.  Plus exporting residential trash to landfills costs cities millions of dollars a year. Composting can’t do anything to shrink what’s already in the landfill, but it can stem the flow of more trash while limiting the distance our waste travels, creating fertile soil, and even making renewable energy.

Composting doesn’t take a lot of work, but it does take more thought than tossing everything in the trash. Luckily, any lifestyle shift goes a bit easier with a bit of advanced planning. The hardest part is getting started.

Composting leftover food is a beneficial way to reuse food scraps, turning food waste into energy for plants.

While not everyone has room for an outdoor composting system, there’s a wide range of countertop composting systems that make this practice easy and accessible for everyone, even those with limited space.

An outdoor composter may work well for someone with a large garden, while a countertop composter is best for city dwellers with houseplants or small herb gardens.

Unregulated "Sell By" Dates Increase Food Waste

Every year, 40% of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten, leading to 160 billion pounds of wasted food in our landfills.

The Harvard Food Policy Clinic looks at just how much milk is thrown out in this video, as a result of sell by dates and the alarming rate at which dairy, one of the highest contributors to climate change is discarded.  Stores (varies by state) inability to donate items past the "sell by" date, causes them to dispose of a large amount of dairy which takes one of the highest amounts of supply chain resources to cultivate.

“Sell by” and “expires on” are just two of the many confusing terms used by food producers to determine these dates, which aren't regulated by the U.S. government.  The truth of the matter is that most food just passed a given date is still safe to eat.

Ugly Fruit

The consumer demand for flawless fruits and vegetables has led major grocery chains to buy only picture-perfect produce from farmers. This leads to tons of perfectly good food going to waste.

It’s such a big issue that major grocery chains like Walmart and Whole Foods have started offering “ugly” fruits and vegetables at a discount in an attempt to reduce waste.

Meal Planning to Reduce Food Waste

Here are some tips from Lifehacker's #1 meal planning service, CookSmarts on How to Reduce Food Waste.  

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