By Terrah Baker
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of the food produced in America goes to waste. From the fields to the factory, and then the home, food waste is a nationwide problem that they’re now trying to combat with a pilot program Food: Too Good To Waste.
One Energy Corp member working with the Washington County Environmental Affairs and Recycling agency wants to help NW Arkansans reduce local food waste, and by doing so save consumers money. To do this, Erin Anderson has taken to the streets, schools and local publications, offering short tutorials and support for the two-, four-, or six-week program that participants say opens their eyes to how much food they actually throw away.
Anderson speaks Spanish and wanted to begin her program with a population very few can reach out to, and who was accessible through the local Toyota Literacy Program.
“A lot of people who don’t speak English as a native language are relatively new to the U.S. and might not know a lot about American diets, how to prepare food, shop for food and dispose of food waste properly,” Anderson said.
The literacy program, set up in schools around the nation, and locally in Springdale, is meant to help children and adults to speak and write English. She took the EPA curriculum to these classes, and despite poor attendance and recidivism, the responses of the participants took her attention.
“A lot of it was just awareness. The numbers weren’t phenomenal, but what made me feel like it was successful was that these people wrote things like ‘We never, ever thought about food waste before. Now we do.’ ‘We care.’ ‘This is important.’ ‘Thank you so much for this information.’ People responded and regarded the program really highly,” she explained.
This is partly because the program is easy and can be done at home, with all materials provided by Anderson through the EPA, so families didn’t find it difficult to complete, even with busy lifestyles. Anderson hopes to extend the program to six weeks, but said the two-week program can be just as effective.
The Ins And Outs
The two-week program requires that for the first three days, participants eat and throw away food waste normally. But before it goes in the trash, they take a picture of the waste and then write about why that food was wasted, what they could’ve done differently or will do in the future, and contemplate what the waste means for their pocket book and the environment.
“If you waste a ton of pasta one night, take a picture. When you do this, you’re taking the time to recognize what you’re wasting,” Anderson said.
Then, like the longer programs, participants implement food saving measures — buying groceries based on meal plans, moving old vegetables to a bin in the front of the refrigerator to be used first — outlined by the EPA to see what changes. By the end of the second week, consumers should be more aware of the amount of food waste they’re contributing to the larger problem.
The four- and six-week programs consist of saving food waste in a bag the first week, measuring the contents of the bag, and then implementing the saving measures for several weeks before again measuring food waste during the last week, to calculate any improvements.
It’s easy, affordable and in the end even saves families money, time and world resources, said Anderson, which is why she wants the program to continue and grow.
“In Fayetteville you pay as you throw and food waste is a huge constituent of landfills,” Anderson said. “This matters to those with a moral, personal responsibility. For those who don’t care about that, just the simple idea that you’re paying for the waste you throw away, and you’re paying for your food so it’s more economically sound and viable to not waste the food you’re buying.”
To learn more about this program, and/or participate, complete with consultation from Anderson and free materials through delivery, email or fax, contact her at EAnderson@co.washington.ar.us or (952) 465-2200. Participants will receive a free book entitled “Backyard Composting” and the participant that reduces the most food waste throughout the program will receive a Green Cleaning Kit.