Nov 28, 2022

Food waste is contributing to climate change Transcript

Food waste is contributing to climate change Transcript
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Discarded food is responsible for as much as 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Finally, tonight, from moldy strawberries to Thanksgiving leftovers, food waste is a part of daily life in America, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s responsible for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Rhode Island, PBS Weekly, Isabella Jibilian reports on why so much food goes to waste, and some efforts to stop the trend.

Isabella Jibilian (00:26):

At Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts, it’s harvest season.

Eva Agudelo (00:31):

Definitely get in a rhythm. That’s fun when that happens.

Isabella Jibilian (00:36):

But Eva Agudelo knows that not all of this produce will end up at the farm stand.

Eva Agudelo (00:41):

They’ll start growing the corn at different times, so that it becomes ready at different times, but if we have a super hot summer, sometimes all of the corn will be ready all at the same time, and then the farmer doesn’t have sufficient customers or grocery stores or whatever that can actually move that much corn that quickly, so they’ll just have more corn than they literally know what to do with.

Isabella Jibilian (01:02):

And that’s not the only problem.

Eva Agudelo (01:04):

Sometimes the food that gets left in the field is a little too big or a little too small. If you’re selling potatoes to a french fry factory, they need those potatoes to be a certain size and shape and weight to be able to work within the machinery.

Isabella Jibilian (01:18):

So, after months of tilling land and tending to crops, all this extra produce will ultimately die on the vine.

Dawn King (01:26):

Food waste is a very big problem in the US. Now, they’re both talking about economics, right?

Isabella Jibilian (01:31):

Dawn King, who lectures on the environment at Brown University, knows this problem well.

Dawn King (01:37):

They also say pollution is a sign of waste. And so it goes well beyond what we’re putting into our landfills, because 30% of food is wasted or lost before it even gets to the retail or distributor.

Isabella Jibilian (01:50):

Why are we seeing waste happen on farms?

Dawn King (01:53):

We’re very mechanized, and so machines are actually specifically designed, many of them, to only harvest the top two thirds of a plant.

Isabella Jibilian (02:02):

That’s because farmers don’t want machines getting tangled in dirt, and farmers also leave behind produce that’s less attractive, what’s known as Grade B.

Dawn King (02:12):

Once that becomes Grade B, it loses almost all of its value. It’s not even like it drops 10%. It loses almost all that value. So, farmers are faced in this really bad predicament. They want the food to go to others, but they have to pay people to pick it. They have to pay people to package it. They have to get it on a truck, and get it to that donation site. All of this costs the farmer money,

Isabella Jibilian (02:34):

King says the problem goes far beyond the farm. At every point in the supply chain, more food is lost, from manufacturing, restaurants, grocery stores, and the worst culprits, consumers at home. Added up, about one-third of the food supply in the US is lost or wasted. If food is exposed to air when it’s breaking down, it at least has the chance of becoming compost. But when it breaks down at a landfill, something else happens. Greenhouse gas.

Dawn King (03:06):

It rots, when it’s not exposed to oxygen like in a landfill state, and when it rots, it creates-

Isabella Jibilian (03:12):

Because it’s so piled up.

Dawn King (03:13):

It’s so piled up. Exactly. You pile it on top of each other, so none of it is exposed to air, and so it does the exact opposite of compost. It turns into methane, right? You’re having a festering methane pile that is 25 times more potent than CO2.

Isabella Jibilian (03:28):

And that’s what we’re seeing when we see those pipes that are sticking out of a landfill?

Dawn King (03:32):

Yes. Yes.

Isabella Jibilian (03:32):

Those are to let out the methane?

Dawn King (03:34):


Isabella Jibilian (03:35):

King says so much food is thrown away, because it’s relatively inexpensive in the US, and because use-by dates are misleading.

Dawn King (03:44):

A lot of people don’t realize that expiration dates are not set by the US government. Baby formula is the only food product that actually has a mandated best-by date. Sometimes it says sell by. Sometimes it says best-by. Sometimes it just has a date.

Isabella Jibilian (03:58):

King says, these dates describe how long the manufacturer guarantees the quality of the food, rather than how safe it is to eat.

Dawn King (04:07):

There’s actually a labeling problem in the United States as well, that people throw away things that they think are bad, and it’s really not that way.

Josh Domingues (04:15):

The average store throws out anywhere from 5,000 to $10,000 worth of food every day, and that food’s anywhere from three days to sometimes weeks before the sell-by date.

Isabella Jibilian (04:25):

Josh Domingues is the founder and CEO of the company Flashfood.

Josh Domingues (04:29):

It’s not just a story of the big bad retailer, it’s also consumers. If we go buy a watermelon, and there’s one on the shelf as consumers, we assume it’s the worst one, so the grocery has to overstock the shelve so that we get selection.

Isabella Jibilian (04:42):

Domingues came up with an idea. Save the perfectly edible food that is culled from supermarkets, like a nicked pepper or meat within three days of its date. He created an app where customers across the Midwest and Eastern US can buy today’s deals, and pick them up from special purple fridges.

Josh Domingues (04:59):

Then, in terms of the volume, we’ve diverted over 50 million pounds of food that would’ve likely ended up in landfills.

Isabella Jibilian (05:08):

Back at Four Town Farm, Eva Agudelo has another way of rescuing food. Her program gathers produce that remains in the field after harvest. It’s a process called gleaning.

Eva Agudelo (05:20):

We’re already passed probably about 400 pounds of corn, and we will probably get over 1000 pounds.

Isabella Jibilian (05:29):

Last year, they saved up to 250,000 pounds of food ,and donated it to Hunger Relief. It’s a old world solution to a modern problem.

Eva Agudelo (05:40):

Gleaning is actually in the Old Testament in the Book of Ruth, so it goes back thousands of years.

Isabella Jibilian (05:47):

It’s not new tech.

Eva Agudelo (05:48):

It sure is not. No. People are like, “How did you come up with this idea?” I’m like, “Oh, I really did not.”

Isabella Jibilian (05:54):

For PBS News Weekend, I’m Isabella Jibilian in Providence, Rhode Island.

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