How does food waste affect animals?
The food we waste causes big problems for wildlife and the world’s ecosystems. With mass extinction threatening so many of the earth’s inhabitants, it has never been more important to proactively protect the planet.
Food waste has a huge effect on climate change and is annually responsible for three billion tons of carbon emissions around the world. That’s just a little less than the entire carbon emissions of the United States every year. If food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest offender for greenhouse gas emissions!
Food that has been wasted and left to rot away on landfill makes up 34% of all methane gas emissions. This is very bad news, as methane gas is almost twenty times more damaging to our environment than carbon. Landfills are the second largest human source of methane. Methane gas, once released, rises in our atmosphere where it sits and keeps hot air from escaping, causing the planet to warm very quickly. Incediently cows and livestock are the biggest source of methane, meaning beef and meat production is extremely burdensome to the planet.
The way we dispose of our food has a big knock-on effect on the earth’s delicate ecosystems. For example, when fish waste from a production plant gets deposited back in the sea, the area it’s being dumped into starts attracting more gulls. These gulls will finish eating what’s on offer and then begin to eat younger fish from the area in much larger numbers. This affects the amount of fish in the water, meaning there are not enough fish to eat smaller, more invasive species, which can then overfeed on plants, which then cannot produce enough oxygen, which causes huge problems of its own. Soon enough this ecosystem has been all but destroyed, not from overfishing but from the waste produced to get that fish on our plates.
These knock-on effects can breed all sorts of unexpected problems. There are areas of urban India where leopards have begun getting more intrusive as the amount of food in their natural ecosystems is dwindling due to climate change, food they can easily at the city landfill. These animals are then going to adapt to this new environment, causing more problems to the biodiversity of the jungles they have left. The same thing is happening with black bears in Canada: it’s now fairly common to see them rummaging through the bins in suburban Vancouver!
Deforestation is another huge problem we face globally. Firstly, chopping down all those lovely, green oxygen machines is a terrible idea when we need to counteract the increase in greenhouse gasses. When areas of rainforest are destroyed the natural wildlife from that area has to move and adapt, and usually, this does not end well, with countless species being pushed to the brink of extinction to create land to farm animals or crops, a third of which will end up in our bins and landfills. Again, beef production is partially guilty of causing deforestation, due to the huge amount of land needed to rear cows. Reducing your meat consumption is a great way to lessen your impact on the planet, along with being conscientious and proactive about food waste.
The only way to efficiently recycle food waste without harming the environment is to compost it. Composting doesn’t require any significant power, does not release any nasty by-products and, more importantly, only generates low levels of carbon dioxide. Composting is the only natural way of recycling, and can then be used to plant more fruit and crops. If just one day of food waste was to be composted in the US, the greenhouse gasses that would be avoided is equivalent to almost five million cars being taken off the road!
The food we eat (and waste) greatly affects the health of our planet. As well as taking steps towards a zero waste kitchen at home, it’s important to educate ourselves on where our produce comes from, and try to buy local (and organic if you can afford it). Reducing your meat intake is a great habit to pick up, along with learning simple ways to reduce food waste at home.