Extra Plates, Extra Waste: PC’s Food Waste Problem

by Kaelin Ferland '23 on February 18, 2022
Opinion Staff


Food waste is one of Providence College’s main environmental problems. Last semester, ECOPC filled two bins with food waste from Raymond Dining Hall in less than two hours. According to Feeding America, approximately 108 billion pounds of food are wasted every year in the United States alone, about 40 percent of the food in our country. Food waste also has a significant economic impact, costing $408 billion annually. However, while many people know that food waste is harmful to the environment, they are not aware of why this is the case. 

Food waste is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, if food waste were a country, it would be the third greatest greenhouse gas emitter. Furthermore, they estimate that food waste is responsible for approximately 8 percent of our global greenhouse gas emissions. This is because as food decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, which traps heat 25 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. Thus, food waste has a significant relation to climate change and global warming. 

Other environmental issues, such as deforestation, land use, and water waste, are interconnected with food waste.  wasteful to use such resources when much of the food produced will be thrown away.

In order to increase land for agricultural production, forests around the world,  including rainforests, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, are destroyed to make fields. Deforestation is not only an issue in terms of habitat destruction for native species, but the elimination of trees minimizes the amount of carbon dioxide that can be removed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Additionally, it is unsustainable to clear trees for farmland when most of the food cultivated on this land will not be consumed; yet, FAO estimates that 90 percent of deforestation is for agricultural purposes. Furthermore, every year, 1.4 billion hectares of farmland are used to produce food that will ultimately be wasted. 

Water waste is another environmental issue that is connected to food waste. It is estimated that around 70 percent of our freshwater is used in agriculture and that 9 billion people could have used the water that was used to produce wasted food. This is primarily because conventional agriculture is inefficient in terms of its water use. Many crops are grown in hot and dry climates where water evaporates before it can be used by the plants, requiring more water. About 40 percent of water used in agriculture is lost because of this. There is no reason why crops should be grown in these warmer, humid climates. 

Also in the agriculture sector, the meat industry heavily relies on water. For example, the production of only one pound of beef requires about 1,800 gallons of water. This is especially concerning since we are currently in the midst of a global water crisis. According to the World Health Organization, one-third of people around the world do not have clean drinking water, including individuals in the United States. Water scarcity and shortages are only expected to worsen in the future. While it may seem as though we have an infinite supply of water on our planet, it is important to note that less than three percent of our planet’s water is freshwater. Therefore, individuals should strive to decrease their food waste, as it will help to minimize unnecessary water loss. 

PC should make changes to decrease the amount of food we waste on campus, as it continues to be a significant issue. To start, smaller portions would be a simple and easy way to decrease food waste. Additionally, composting is an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With food waste being one of the greatest contributors to climate change, as well as many other environmental problems, PC should take actions to mitigate food waste on campus.