A Department of Natural Resources study done in October on the things that go into state landfills showed the amount of food waste has doubled since the last study in 2011.
The DNR’s Tom Anderson oversaw the study, and says that’s a key issue that caught their attention. “At the department level we are looking at food waster quite heavily and trying to catch it further up the stream,” Anderson says, “because managing it at the end the pipe so to speak, we are limited.”
The study found 556,131 tons of food was sent to landfills. Anderson says this year they kept track food waste that was still in its original container, and it added up.
“Twenty percent of the total materials landfilled was food waste — 6.7 percent of that was food that never got opened — it came from the store and went straight into the garbage,” according to Anderson.
Anderson says one thing that could be addressed is better education on food expiration dates and what they mean. “You often see a ‘best by’ or ‘best if used by,’ those types of dates. As we understand it the consumers see that as this package of rolls or this box of macaroni or green beans or whatever is no longer good because it is past that date,” Anderson says. “But the date doesn’t have anything to do with safety. You are not going to get sick if you eat something that is past its ‘best by’ date.” Anderson says it appears people are throwing more food out because they don’t understand the labeling.
“Those dates are typically put on by the manufacturer to gauge peak freshness from their perspective. And from the retail side, it facilitates inventory control or inventory management,” Anderson explains. He says the availability and cost of food makes the decision to toss something out easier.
“Food is pretty cheap — relatively cheap in the United States and in Iowa — so it’s often undervalued,” Anderson says. Anderson says that food is not only needlessly taking up landfill space, but it is also costing people money every year.
He says studies have found the average family of four will throw away between 15-hundred and 24-hundred dollars’ worth of food each year. “Now the families don’t necessarily see that because it’s a little today and a little tomorrow, and so forth,” he says.
Anderson says the DNR will look at ways to try cut the amount of food that gets thrown away.