As we saw in the previous post, our society’s choices to waste excessive amounts of food are beginning to run several key resources dry. Even more unfortunate is the fact that this isn’t the only environmental impact that’s coming from our food waste. In this post, we will cover some of the key pollutants that our modern agriculture is producing. Although we know that some pollutants are necessary to create the food that we eat, and we’re not arguing that we need to cut them completely, but the fact that we’re wasting up to 40% of the food that we cultivate is a troubling stat, and one that adds substantial pollution in our environment for food that is just being thrown into landfills to pollute our environment even further.
- Air Pollution
When food is discarded and broken down into landfills, it produces carbon dioxide, but it’s also the leading contributor of methane in the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and is a product of these landfills as well as livestock. For every kg of food waste thrown in landfills, 3,8 kgs of greenhouse gases are emitted, and with 97% of food waste heading to landfills, this leads to severe consequences. We must also factor in the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted during the production, as Agriculture itself accounts for 33% of our world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to the transportation emissions to markets, landfills or any other destination. The yearly pollution from food waste in Finland is the equivalent of what 100 000 cars produce in the same year.
- Land Pollution
Although synthetic fertilizers act as nutrients to nourish plants and crops, the excessive overuse of these products to try to keep up with our growing (and unnecessary) demand for food is beginning to take its toll on the fertile lands across the globe. The excess fertilizer that’s placed in the soil ends up polluting it and degrades the water retention ability and fertility over time, and also adds toxic pollutants into the ecosystem. Landfills, where our food waste ends up, are taking up large amounts of land and polluting any soil or water in the area. It’s important to note that the UK estimates that it will run out of landfill sites by 2019, and have to search for even more land that it will eventually destroy. Agriculture also accounts for 74% of the total annual deforestation around the globe, and is the leading factor as to why we’re losing so many of our precious forests and the biodiversity they contain.
- Water Pollution
The waste we throw in landfills and the fertilizers we drown our crops in are polluting the underground water in these areas, as well as the water bodies that this water streams to. The overuse of fertilizers creates excessive amounts of Nitrogen and Phosphorus, which poisons drinking water and aquatic ecosystems when used in the massive quantities that are being seen in agriculture across the globe today. This excessive pressure to produce more crop yields is a result of our society wasting so much perfectly edible food.
The key to start making a positive change towards the pollution that we’re creating is to stop wasting food. Although we will naturally need to continue to grow our agriculture, we will need to cut down on our food waste to prevent such drastic impacts from continuing to grow at such an alarming pace. We’re killing our own environment for food that isn’t even being eaten.