Reflections on food waste in Iowa

Updated: Jul 29

For my AmeriCorps week of service back in March, I decided to volunteer at a local food rescue organization called Table to Table. Throughout my week there, I saw firsthand some of what goes into running a food rescue organization. Through tasks I completed during the week, I saw the importance of each one and how integral every person is to carry out the mission of this organization.


A component of my service was prepping and cleaning vans for the next day. This entails disinfecting the front and the back of the cab, restocking boxes in the back to put food into, checking to make sure all the equipment needed is in the van, and making sure each one has enough gas for their routes.


In addition to this, I worked on projects around the building, went on food rescue missions, delivered food to their partner organizations, and did daily cleaning tasks around the building.


The main project I worked on was creating a name tag board for all the volunteers. This would make it easier to find their name and have them alphabetized and easy to see. I went on a couple of different routes to pick up food. Table to Table picks up from major stores in Johnson County such as Hy-Vee, Target, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s, as well as gas stations and other stores. When picking up the food, it is the volunteers’ responsibility to record on a form, the pounds of food picked up and how much is dropped off at partner sites. Temperatures of the vans are also taken at each location and beginning and ending mileage is recorded.


Table to Table helps bridge the gap locally between edible food heading to landfill and the 38 million people in the U.S who are classified as food insecure. Their recipient organizations serve more than 20,000 Johnson County residents who deal with food insecurity. They also provide more than 60% of the food that Johnson County pantries distribute amongst residents.


In addition, Table to Table helps reduce food waste in Johnson County. Food waste is a prevalent problem throughout the United States, with almost 40% of food going to waste. This is about equivalent to 108 billions pounds of food and about $408 billion worth of food thrown away each year.


The effects of food waste in landfills are directly related to climate problems. While the food decomposes, it releases potent methane gasses into the atmosphere. It is estimated that 7% of methane emissions globally are attributed to food waste. To put that into perspective, methane is 25% more potent than carbon dioxide and stays in the atmosphere for about 10-20 years before it decays into carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide then stays in the atmosphere between 300-1,000 years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane concentrations have more than doubled over the past few centuries.


There are actions that can be taken to minimize greenhouse gas outputs. Composting food scraps can help mitigate methane emissions from landfills. An additional perk of composting is that it can be used for crops on farms and at home.


Another action is a simple but effective one; only buy what you need at the store. Avoiding shopping while hungry or stocking up on perishables can greatly reduce the amount of food wasted.


Lastly, look for volunteer opportunities like Table to Table. The service they provide not only benefits the community but the environment around us. The fossil fuel usage for transportation from farm-to-market, water usage for growing crops, feed and water needed to raise animals, and labor put forth from workers doesn’t have to go to waste. Instead, organizations like Table to Table work to rescue perfectly good food that would otherwise be thrown away, thanks to generous volunteers, dedicated to helping the community.


 

Resources

​​https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/our-approach/reduce-food-waste#:~:text=How%20much%20food%20waste%20is,food%20in%20America%20is%20wasted.


https://changeforclimate.ca/story/the-problem-of-food-waste


https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america#:~:text=Facts%20about%20hunger%20in%20America,United%20States%20are%20food%20insecure.


https://www.epa.gov/gmi/importance-methane#:~:text=Methane%20is%20more%20than%2025,due%20to%20human%2Drelated%20activities.


https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-bad-of-a-greenhouse-gas-is-methane/


https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2915/the-atmosphere-getting-a-handle-on-carbon-dioxide/#:~:text=Once%20it's%20added%20to%20the,timescale%20of%20many%20human%20lives.


 

About the Author

Lauren serves as the education and outreach coordinator for sustainable schools at Clear Creek Amana. An Iowa native, Lauren moved from Cedar Rapids and to Iowa City to pursue her bachelor's in Environmental Planning and Policy. She is also working on getting her certificate in Sustainability and minor in Global Health Studies. In her time with Green Iowa AmeriCorps, Lauren hopes to educate students about climate change and get them to think sustainably.




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