This Food Waste Culprit Accounts for Nearly A Quarter of the Global Carbon Footprint

food waste ends up in landfills

Retailers have recently been taking a stand against food waste, with Walmart and Whole Foods launching ugly fruit and vegetable campaigns to encourage consumers to purchase less-than-perfect produce. But more attention should be turned to meat waste, as experts say it is far worse for the environment than food waste from plant matter.

While meat waste only makes up 15 percent of the total volume of food waste in the United States, it accounts for 21 percent of the global carbon footprint, according to a 2013 report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This amounts to approximately 693,000 metric kilotons of carbon emissions from meat waste alone.

Products of animal origin account for a total of 33 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, according to the FAO.

A study published in 2015 at the University of Missouri showed this to be true on a smaller scale. According to the study, meat and protein were responsible for the greatest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions from food waste at University dining halls, despite ranking fourth in total weight of food wasted.

“When you throw away that pound of beef, you’re essentially throwing away all of the embodied resources that were needed to generate that meat,” Ronald McGarvey, assistant professor at the University of Missouri and co-author of the paper told the Huffington Post. This includes the water, energy, and other resources to raise the animals as well as for the slaughter, butchery, and transport of the meat.

Meat waste itself contributes to the carbon footprint in an alarming way, particularly with regard to its presence in landfills. A 2013 report released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency found that organic materials, including food waste, made up the largest component of municipal solid waste, at 28 percent of total waste. 97 percent of food waste makes it into landfills. According to the EPA, landfills account for 20 percent of national methane emissions.

The Department of Agriculture reports that 13.4 billion pounds of meat and poultry were wasted in the United States in 2010, of which consumers were responsible for 11.1 billion pounds. Recent information from the FAO shows that in the USA, 30 to 40 percent of the total food supply is wasted.

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Landfill image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco