This story is part of a Scroll series highlighting hunger in Eastern Idaho.
What would you do to stop someone from stealing food out of your dumpster?
Perhaps you wouldn’t do anything, but some supermarkets in France douse their food waste in bleach to deter looters. This isn’t without reason, of course: Many times when a supermarket throws food away, it’s dangerous to eat. However, there is also plenty food that could have been used.
Food waste is a problem in the United States, with over 70 billion pounds of food wasted a year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an American will throw away $1,600 worth of food a year:
— EPA Land (@EPAland) November 16, 2015
There’s no easy answer to the problem of food waste, but there are those working in Rexburg to reduce wasted food.
And there are actions you can take too.
In recent years, France passed a bill forcing supermarkets to donate any usable food to food banks, something that Rexburg’s major supermarkets already do.
For the past several years, Albertson’s, Broulim’s and Walmart have been donating unsold food to Rexburg’s Family Crisis Center, a domestic violence center and community food bank.
According to Raimio Rubio, a receiving clerk at Albertson’s, their store would have several dumpsters worth of food waste a week before they started donating to the Family Crisis Center.
Now, these three stores donate their unsold food to the food bank, pig farmers or send it to central plants to be redistributed.
Ian Martinson, Broulim’s store manager, said they only throw away about one cartload of food a week. Everything else that can be donated, whether it’s food close to its expiration date or misshaped produce, they find someone to give it to.
“We donate whatever’s safe to food banks here in town,” said Kevin Stephens from Albertson’s.
Albertson’s, Broulim’s and the Crisis Center often use the “Best By” dates to determine if an item is alright to give out. Most items will still be alright to eat after the date, sometimes long after.
These donations are supplemented by other local donations from Madison residents and students.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are three reasons why food waste must stop: Wasted food could go to needy families, all the energy and resources used to make that food has been wasted as well, and food makes landfills the third largest producer of methane in the U.S.
The reasons why there is so much food waste in the U.S. isn’t clear-cut, but one of the reasons is the aesthetic appeal of food.
“Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards,” wrote Suzanne Goldenberg in an article for The Guardian.
How often have you rejected a fruit at Walmart because it wasn’t the right shape or color? American consumers are trained to accept on the best produce — but do they really know what the best looks like?
Because consumers tend not to buy misshapen produce, the farmers often just leave it on the field. The article quoted Wayde Kirschenman, a potato farmer in California: “I would say at times there is 25% of the crop that is just thrown away or fed to cattle. Sometimes it can be worse.”
With big corporations and supermarket chains wasting food, there’s not much a single person can do to make a difference; but a single person is better than no one. According to Feeding America, 43 percent of all food waste comes from homes.
Here in Rexburg, with so many transitory residents — students moving in and out of apartments every semester — the apartments sometimes have a lot of food left behind.
At NorthPoint Apartments, office manager Julie Severn isn’t sure exactly how much food students leave behind every semester, but she knows it can be boxes upon boxes for all the buildings. Besides charging students a fee for leaving items behind, NorthPoint does what it can to be useful.
“People leave a lot of stuff,” Severn said. “Obviously, if it’s open or perishable we throw it out.” But if it’s non-perishable or before its expiration date, they try to donate to the food bank and the women’s shelter.
Karla Bautista, the apartment manager for Aspen Village Apartments, said something similar.
“We mostly give everything to D.I. when it comes to items,” Bautista said. “We hold them for 30 days; by law we’re supposed to hold personal items, clothes, whatever they leave behind, for 30 days, and if they don’t pick it up within 30 days, we donate them. We’re not allowed to keep anything.”
Here are a few suggestions for how you can reduce food waste in your own home: