Throwing away food is a waste – and several South Carolina agencies and one of the state’s largest food banks are teaming up to do something about it.
The S.C. Departments of Health and Environmental Control, Agriculture and Commerce, along with Harvest Hope Food Bank, this week announced the Don’t Waste Food SC initiative to help reduce the state’s food waste.
Food is the No. 1 item thrown away by Americans, accounting for 21 percent – or 35.2 million tons – of the nation’s waste in 2013, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. On average, each American discards about 20 pounds of food – between $28 to $43 – every month, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The EPA reports that South Carolina produced an estimated 607,000 tons of food waste in 2015.
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The Don’t Waste Food SC project hopes to cut down the amount of food wasted through prevention, donation and composting efforts.
A new website has been launched, www.scdhec.gov/dontwastefoodsc, that contains tips for the public, businesses and institutions to help the state meet or exceed the national goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030.
How can you reduce or prevent food waste?
Practice smart shopping. Plan your meals for the week before you head out to the grocery store. Keep in mind how many meals you will need to prepare and make a list – this will help to keep you focused and less likely to do any impulse buying.
Check your cupboards, pantry and refrigerator before shopping to prevent buying something you already have in the house.
Practice first in, first out by moving older products to the front of the refrigerator, freezer and pantry. By rotating the stock, you’re more likely to use older stuff before its expiration date.
When shopping, choose loose whole fruits and vegetables over pre-packaged or pre-cut. You can better control the quantity of what you’re purchasing and ensure fresher ingredients.
Consider purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables and meats from local farmers as this will keep money in the community and you may get fresher food.
Ask the butcher to re-cut and repackage meat if there is more than you need.
Practice smart food prep. As soon as you return from the grocery store, as you are putting away the groceries, take the time to prepare as much as you can for meals later on in the week. Wash, dry, chop, slice and portion out your fresh food into clear storage containers for snacks and easy cooking.
Remember to use the freezer. Use it for saving breads and sliced fruits and vegetables that you may not be able to eat in time or meals that you have prepared in advance. Clearly label what you put in the freezer, or keep a list of what you’ve put in there, noting the date it was placed in there.
Practice smart storage techniques. The length of time that food will last depends on how fresh it was when it was purchased. Choose fresh foods that will freeze well and remember that local in-season produce will last longer that fruits or vegetables that have been shipped a distance.
How can you donate?
Feeding America is an umbrella organization for food banks nationwide. Locally, Feeding America includes Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia, Lowcountry Food Bank in Charleston, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte and Golden Harvest Food Bank in Augusta.
Since Jan. 1,the four food banks have collectively distributed the equivalent of 59 million meals statewide. They serve 1,800 non-profit organizations that are soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters.
Food donation is the top option for food recovery as it keeps fresh food in the community and available for those in need within that community. Restaurants, grocery stores and retailers can donate bulk fresh or frozen food items.
Farmers and producers can work with local Feeding America organizations to set up farm-to-food bank opportunities to distribute food products that may otherwise go to waste. Coosaw Farms, in Faifax, has worked with local groups in Allendale County to create a farm-to-food bank operation that has distributed food equivalent of 980,000 meals since 2015.
How can you compost?
Create your own backyard composting pile or buy a composting bin where you can recycle kitchen scraps into natural fertilizer. Richland County’s Sustainability Office occasionally offers discounts on composting bins. Contact the ombudsman at (803) 929-6000 for information about placing an order.
Businesses can look into food recyclers. Ask your waste hauler food waste can be diverted to recycling centers such as ReSoil in Elgin that take in such waste on a large scale. ReSoil composts food scraps and sells the compost in cubic foot bags – and cubic yards – to landscapers, garden centers, farmers and homeowners. Currently, the company is handling food waste from Richland 1 and 2, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Publix, Fort Jackson (pilot program), and Harvest Hope.
Food waste by the numbers
40 percentage of food produced that is not eaten
55 gallons of water wasted by throwing away one egg
$1,500 amount a family of four spends on average annually on food that is thrown away
1 in 6 South Carolinians who are food insecure
1,400 jobs created for every 1 million tons of material composted
35.2 million tons food waste nationwide in 2013
607,000 tons food waste produced in South Carolina during 2015 fiscal year
27 million pounds donated food distributed by Harvest Hope Food Bank in 2015 fiscal year
2030 year EPA hopes to have food waste reduced by 50 percent