Wasted food could help feed the hungry

We’re all guilty of wasting food. It might be the overfilled plate, the wilted salad greens in the fridge, the unrecognizable frozen object or the ignored leftovers, but together, South Carolinians alone produced an estimated 607,000 tons of food waste in fiscal year 2015.

That figure comes from a report by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the S.C. Department of Commerce, and the S.C. Department of Agriculture which recently have joined forces to wage a “Don’t Waste Food” campaign. The agencies note that despite the fact that one out of six Americans struggles with hunger, food waste is the single largest item sent to landfills.

Thrown-out food accounts for more than 20 percent – or about 35.2 million tons – of the nation’s waste. Wouldn’t it be nice if at least some of that wasted food could be redirected to the people who desperately need it?

That is one of the goals of Don’t Waste Food S.C. Organizers hope to educate people, businesses and communities first to prevent waste. But when excess does occur, that surplus should be donated to food banks and other groups that feed the needy.

Finally, if food can’t be put to good use on the table, it should be composted rather than being added to landfills. Organizers see composting not only as a way to reduce waste but also as a way to boost the economy. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt estimates that up to 1,400 new jobs can be generated for every one million tons of composted materials.

Ultimately, sponsors of this effort hope to reduce the state’s food waste by 50 percent by 2030. To that end, consumers, communities and businesses are encouraged to donate and compost food, to upgrade infrastructure for composting and to connect food surpluses to agencies that can deliver it to the hungry.

We should consider this not only as a war against waste but also as a path to greater peace of mind. There is something unnerving about the idea of people going hungry and children being undernourished while tons and tons of good food end up in the landfill each year.

And why should all that uneaten food simply be discarded when it could be repurposed as composted mulch that can help grow the next crop?

This is a project that can involve both the small-scale efforts of individual homeowners and the large-scale efforts of big businesses. Together we can reduce the egregious waste and help feed the hungry in the process.