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Environmental impacts of food waste in the Bay Area

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FEBRUARY 02, 2023

During my elementary school years, I remember the repetitive sights of kids throwing away food they didn’t want from their lunch boxes. In the trash, there would be piles of sandwiches, bars and fruit — all packed to feed them for the day. At the time, I didn’t think more of it than my peers not wanting to eat what was packed for them, but now I realize that the issue is much more pertinent than just the simple action of tossing something in the trash.

The dining halls at Berkeley are a hub for extreme food waste. After you finish eating, you circle around the dining hall to the trash bins, which are always overflowing with food. Luckily, there is a compost section, but that doesn’t ignore the fact that we are simply dispensing food that we didn’t end up consuming. 

In households, many people forget about food that they have purchased, often only remembering once it’s past its expiration date. There goes more food dumped in the trash, often because households lack a compost bin to throw food into. A recent study showed that only 27% of Americans have access to composting resources, a very small percentage considering the push to be more environmentally friendly. 

In restaurants, you can imagine a similar story. How many restaurant owners actually put into place the practice of composting? It requires a considerable number of operations to start composting in your restaurant from informing employees of the correct protocols to make it feasible for the business. Unfortunately, the National Restaurant Association found that only 14% of restaurant companies composted at all. 

This statistic is shockingly low, considering restaurants should be held accountable for food waste that is left on plates by customers. A UC Berkeley student may contribute to growing food waste daily: from scrapping extra breakfast to trying something new at the dining hall only for it to be thrown out and going out to dinner at a restaurant to leave scraps on the plate. 

In almost every form of life where humans consume food, there are gaps in the ability to compost, contributing to the overall issue of food waste. This prompts the question: how does the Bay Area rank in terms of mitigating the impacts of food waste?

About 35% of the 229 million tons of food in the United States were wasted in 2019. As California is one of the most populated states, we play a huge role in this shockingly high number. DrawDown Bay Area, a climate change mitigation nonprofit, notes there are many simple solutions to combating your own food waste. 

First, buy only what you will eat. This seems simple but can often slip through the cracks as consumers may try something new only to not like it and throw it out after the first bite. I myself am guilty of this habit and am working to change it currently. If you typically have leftovers after a meal that you don’t eat, try making smaller portions or make a habit of eating the meal the following day. 

It is especially important to get a compost bucket. You can easily request your own compost bin from CalRecycle. You can also buy compostable bags and throw them into the organics bin to be picked up weekly. All of this collected organic material will then be sent to a composting facility, so you don’t have to take care of it yourself. 

Mitigating food waste is extremely important because food that ends up in landfills eventually generates methane, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. By preventing extra food from ending in landfills to reduce the waste in the first place or sending it to a compost facility, we can make a huge impact on slowing greenhouse gas emissions.

No matter what position you are in life, composting is extremely important for a more sustainable future and is one of the easiest actions to be taken to reduce your carbon footprint. 

Contact Ashley Carter at 


FEBRUARY 02, 2023