Wasted: Getting to the root of food waste in Mississippi
MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - It is no secret Americans love food, but oftentimes food gets thrown in the trash.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans waste about 133 billion pounds of food each year, which is enough to fill the Sears (Willis) Tower 44 times.
In 2015, the USDA set its first national goal to cut food waste 50 percent by the year 2030.
Its goal is to partner with schools, charities and local governments to create initiatives that will help to reduce food waste.
The plan is voluntary, but there are already several programs and initiatives in place that strive to cut food waste and provide education about it. This includes groups in the Pine Belt region.
The Problem: Economic, Social, And Environmental
American food waste is progressively becoming an economic, environmental and social issue.
According to the USDA, the average person spends about $30 a month on uneaten food and a family of four waste almost $1,500 on uneaten food.
Retail and grocery stores are responsible for wasting 10 percent of the available food supply, often tossing out food that is edible, but may not be cosmetically appealing to consumers.
Wasted food at the consumer and retail levels create a problem for those who do not have enough to eat.
According to the Mississippi Food Net Work, Mississippi has the worst hunger problem in the country.
Almost one in four Mississippians do not have enough to eat.
The USDA reported that food waste is the largest component of municipal solid waste.
Food tossed into landfills increases methane levels, which is harmful for the environment.
Possible Solutions: Reduce, Recycle, Recover
Consumers should not buy more food than what they need.
Miah Crosby of Seminary is a mother of four and she said she does her best to live within her means.
"If I don't need it, I don't buy it," Crosby said. "If I can make it, I do not buy it. I just look at things and say 'Is this something that I really need?'"
Planning before going to the grocery store can help to prevent unnecessary shopping.
Being mindful of the amount of food that is cooked or put on a plate can help to reduce waste.
"You really have to be conscious of how much you're eating and not waste it, " Crosby said. "We went through a time where the children were eating a lot of a particular item and then they slowed down, and we realized they were having more in the pot than we previously had so we didn't cook as much."
Food often gets thrown away because people do not want to eat leftovers.
Leftovers can be fed to farm animals or placed in compost bins to help reduce waste.
Composting is an efficient way to recycle nutrients from food back into the soil.
Oak Grover Upper Elementary School in Lamar County teaches the benefits of composting in the school's outdoor classroom and garden.
"Well they're learning whatever is not used in the cafeteria, like the banana peels can be put in our compost bin," fifth grade teacher and garden coordinator Heather Giger said. "It's making them more aware of what they're putting on their plate and how it affects the environment and how it might eventually end up in a landfill."
Giger's class uses a QR Scanner App to learn more about composting.
"They can scan a food item and research if it can be used for composting," Giger said. "If they don't know the name of a plant or if it its poisonous to goats or chickens, they can scan it and see if it is OK."
There are several food-recovering programs in the Pine Belt area.
In 2014, Christian Services in Hattiesburg recovered over 800,000 pounds of food from grocery stores and local restaurants to give to people and other agencies.
They have partnered with United Way, Petal Children's Task Force, Mississippi Food Network and more.
Recovery organizations also accept home food donations and food corporations can often receive a tax credit for donating.
To read more about the USDA and EPA's effort to set the nation's first food waste reduction goals, click here.