This is how much water you waste when you throw away food (Thinkstock)
This is how much water you waste when you throw away food
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Food waste is a staggering problem. In 2010, close to 133 billion pounds, or a little over $160 billion worth of food, wound up in U.S. landfills.
 
"There's no benefit to wasting food," says Kai Olson-Sawyer, a senior research and policy analyst at GRACE Communications Foundation. It is an organization that highlights the relationship between food, water and energy resources. "The fact is that food waste is truly a waste to all humanity of every kind."
 
That's because when you toss a rotten apple or a moldy container of leftovers, you're not just throwing away the food. You are tossing all the resources that went into producing it. "It's really important to understand where and how things are grown," says Ruth Mathews. She is executive director of the Water Footprint Network, an organization founded in 2008 to advance sustainable water use.
 
Water plays a major role in food production. As a result, food waste translates to an enormous amount of water wastage. All foods have a water footprint. That is the direct and indirect water that goes into producing a certain food. But some footprints are larger than others.
 
In general, meats tend to need the most water for production, primarily because of the amount of food the animal needs. So for instance, the water footprint of beef includes water that's used to grow the animal's feed and to maintain the farm, as well as drinking water for the animal.
 
Also, larger animals aren't as efficient in terms of meat production as smaller animals, like chickens or turkeys. The bigger beasts therefore have a larger water footprint. Consider this: The water footprint of beef adds up to 1,800 gallons per pound -- think 35 standard-size bathtubs -- while a chicken's water footprint is roughly 519 gallons per pound.
 
Almonds, too, have a massive water footprint. It takes more than 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of almonds.  They have been in the news lately for their water-guzzling ways. But it isn't as simple as that when you account for the amount of food wasted.
 
"When food is wasted, it's often because of how we prepare it or how perishable it is," Olson-Sawyer says. "For instance, almonds tend not to spoil as quickly as milk, so less is wasted."
 
In 2010, Americans wasted 23 percent of every pound of beef. It accounted for 400 gallons of water that, quite literally, went down the drain. In general, fruit, vegetables and dairy account for the most consumer waste. Also in 2010, consumers wasted 25 percent of every pound of apples. It ultimately translated to 25 gallons of wasted water.
 
Similarly, it takes roughly 620 gallons of water to produce a dozen eggs. It means that each time we dump an unused egg in the trash, we waste about 50 gallons of water.
 
Food waste has other environmental impacts, too. "If you put all the food waste into one country, it would be the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter," says Brian Lipinski, an associate in the World Resource Institute's Food Program. Decomposing food that makes its way into landfills releases methane, which is significantly more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
 
All is not lost, however. There are numerous efforts underway to cut food loss at every level. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency recently called for a 50-percent reduction in food waste by 2030. Meanwhile, Portland launched a citywide composting program a few years ago. And at the retail level, the former president of Trader Joe's recently opened a store near Boston that sells surplus food donated by grocery stores, at rock-bottom prices.
 
Even simple changes can have big effects. A few years ago, college cafeterias began to go trayless. Carrying two plates at most rather than trays piled high with all-you-can-serve and all-you-can-eat daredevilry forced students to think about what they really wanted to eat. The seemingly simple move, which more than 120 colleges chose to adopt, helped reduce food consumption and waste by 25 to 30 percent in some colleges. 
 
Still, waste is inevitable. "There's never going to be some ideal or perfect way to eliminate it all, but it's pretty egregious right now," Olson-Sawyer says. More so, perhaps, because according to the United Nations World Food Program, "there's enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life."
 
Fortunately, change at any level -- whether it's as a supplier, retailer or consumer -- will help ease the impact of food waste on natural resources. Simply put, "it does matter how much you consume," Mathews says. "It does matter what you consume, especially when you get down to the details of where this is produced and how sustainable is that production."


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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can you measure the water footprint of food?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (38)
  • Steve0620-yyca
    6/14/2016 - 02:17 p.m.

    It is surprising how much water we waste when we throw away some food. For example, if we throw away an unused egg, we throw away around fifty gallons of water. This is because foods have water footprint. Water footprint is the direct and indirect water that goes into producing a certain food. A lot of water goes into planting the food, or giving it water to drink if it is an animal. A lot of water is used to produce food and that is why we waste gallons of water when throwing away food. Animals have a lot of water footprint because they drink water, water is used to grow what the animal eats, and water is used for the farm. People have saved many gallons of water by only getting how much they think that they can eat rather than getting a bunch of plates.
    You can measure water footprints by seeing how much water a food took to grow. I hope that people won't waste food because it also wastes water and many people need food and water.

  • keewon0801-byo
    6/27/2016 - 04:10 p.m.

    It's incredible of how much water are wasted by throwing away 1 small thing. A water footprint is a direct or indirect water that goes into producing food. It's bad enough that were in a drought but gallons and gallons of water is going down the drain because of food waste. We use water for drinking, bathing, growing food and food. We measure the water footprints by how much water was needed to make that product. Like to get beef we need to bathe the cow, give the cow a drink, and the COWS food. Which to grow THAT food we need water. Plus, That's only the cow. There are eggs, chickens, pigs, wheat, carrots, and much more. Guess what? WE THROW ALL THAT PROGRESS AWAY! Just... unbelievable.

  • sean1116-byo
    8/10/2016 - 06:01 p.m.

    Food is wasted every day by millions of people. Some people even throw away some good looking spaghetti. Throwing away food doesn't only mean that water is wasted, wasted food contributes to global warming. When food end up in landfills, it starts to decompose. When food decomposes it releases methane. Then the methane goes into the Earth's atmosphere and traps in the heat. People should stop wasting food in the future.

  • austinh-rhi
    8/22/2016 - 09:13 a.m.

    you can measure the water footprint of food by making a T-CHART. count all the food you depose. last you don't depose of food.

  • hannahg-rhi
    8/22/2016 - 09:18 a.m.

    By how much water is used to make the food. Like when we cook noodles at my house we waste at least 2 cup[s of water.

  • mhailie-dav
    8/24/2016 - 04:21 p.m.

    In response to "This is how much water you waste when you throw away food". I agree that to much water is being wasted in the food we throw away. One reason I agree is that were taking more food than we can eat. Another reason is that we buy to much meat at a time when really we should buy smaller portions and not waste water. It says in the article "11 pounds of meat thrown away is 19,800 gallons of water is being tossed. A third reason I agree is so much money is being wasted. it says "168 billion dollars worth of food was thrown away". Even though this problem may not be fixed right away, I think we can find more solutions in the future.

  • ochristina-dav
    8/24/2016 - 04:37 p.m.

    In response to "This is how much water you waste when you throw away food," I agree that it does indeed waste water when you throw out leftovers or containers full of rotted food. One reason is that even if you throw out a plate of leftovers, it wastes both precious food and fresh water. Another reason is that water is a role in creating food such as meat or vegetables grown in soil. It even says in the article "Water plays a major role in food production. As a result, food waste translates to an enormous amount of water wastage. All foods have a water footprint." A third reason could be that as a effect of wasting food/water, it could create a "pile of greenhouse gases," as stated in the article. People really should pay attention to what they eat sometimes, as it can effect the environment and other things too. Even though most people probably do not think it does not take a role in helping workers make our food, I think otherwise.

  • vmargaret-dav
    8/24/2016 - 05:18 p.m.

    In response to "This is how much water you waste when you throw away food", I agree that we shouldn't waste food. one reason I agree is that like the article says when we waste food we waste water. Another reason is that when we waste food we are also wasting money. It says in the article "Similarly, it takes roughly 620 gallons of water to produce a dozen eggs." A third reason is that larger animals aren't born faster than smaller animals so therefore we could be using that food wisely or we could be wasting it and not have a lot of food when we need it. Even though we have a lot of food right now, I think it will be better to not waste than to not have a lot of food later.

  • carmenh-orv
    8/24/2016 - 09:47 p.m.

    To measure the water footprint of food you take the amount of water it took to grow the foods. Once you have that you now have the water footprint.

  • jacobs-rhi
    8/25/2016 - 09:11 a.m.

    You can use your foot to find that. It is very useful. I think it is cool and disgusting.

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