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Food Waste Warrior Toolkit

Theme: 
Food, Waste
Grade: 
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

How we produce, consume, and waste food represents one of the greatest threats to life on Earth. It’s estimated that Americans waste 30-40% of all food produced, or approximately 63 million tons each year. To put that in perspective, if all that food we wasted annually came from one farm, that farm would be three quarters the size of California, and it would harvest enough food to fill a 40-ton tractor every 20 seconds.

This extreme amount of food waste has many negative impacts on our environment. One such impact comes from the way we dispose of food. The majority of the food we waste in the US is dumped into landfills, which emit a collective 124 million tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) each year. These gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, are major contributors to climate change. In fact, when it comes to methane in particular, our food-filled landfills are the country’s third largest source of this potent greenhouse gas, which has a global warming potential that is 25-30 times greater than CO2.

Another impact comes from how we produce food. Most food production processes use of a lot of natural resources (like water) and also create GHG emissions. So when we waste any amount of food that has been produced, that means we have also wasted precious water and caused more climate change stress on the planet than was necessary. In fact, if we reduced our country’s annual food waste by 50%, it’s possible we could save 1.6 trillion gallons of water and reduce GHGs by 18 million tons each year.

Food production and food waste also negatively impact wildlife. For instance, in North America, increased agricultural expansion to meet rising food and fuel demands is putting tremendous pressure on important ecosystems, such as the biodiverse Northern Great Plains of the US and Canada. There, we’re losing some of the planet’s last remaining temperate grasslands on a scale greater than the loss of rain forests in Brazil. In 2014, 1.4 million acres in the Northern Great Plains were lost to tillage, sacrificing the habitat of American wildlife like bison, black-footed ferrets, and sage grouse.

Finally, our food waste problem also impacts our nation’s health and well-being, because at the same time that we’re wasting millions of tons of food each year, many in the US are going hungry. One in seven Americans lives in a food-insecure household, and 3 million of those households include children—a dire situation that could be resolved if we improved our food production and distribution methods.

It is important that we educate both children and adults about these problems so that we can build a food-secure future, in balance with nature, for all Americans. Including waste reduction awareness programs in schools and city governments is a great starting point for this education—which is why we have created this curriculum. We hope you and your class will enjoy learning how to become “Food Waste Warriors.”

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