Diving for Food Waste

March 5th 2016, midnight.  Partner in crime, check. Clad in black, check. Headlamps, check.

We set out on an undercover investigation to see if the rumors and urban legends are true. What rumors?  Well, I’m sure you’ve heard all those shocking statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) about how they estimate that 32 percent of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. I’ve also heard urban legends of those divers whose reefs are dumpsters, taking home pounds and pounds of booty…perfectly edible food that was thrown out…for no cost at all!

Jeremy Seifert’s award winning film, Dive!, shows him and his friends going around America eating like royalty off their dumpster finds. “854 million people in the world go hungry. In the United States even our trash cans are filled with food, you just have to go get it,” he says.

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Dumpster diving. Image credit: Dive!

Ridiculous – but I was curious, is it true? So I decided to find out. I found myself diving under the cover of nightfall, inside of one of the many dumpsters around Albuquerque, a grave site for some of the many tons of American food waste.

My total findings were about 60 pounds of doughnuts and 15 pounds of bagels.  Quite the find, but nothing like the pounds and pounds of all different types of food that were shown in the Dive! documentary.

It seems that there is a definite commercial food waste problem, but that wasn’t too apparent from my findings. Most of the places I investigated either donate their food waste or keep it in locked trash compactors, so I wasn’t able to snoop around as much as I wanted. I encourage you to look around yourself and see what you can find.  I’m sure you will be surprised.

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Doughnuts from the dumpster. Image credit: Nick

But why is this a problem? Interestingly, In the United States, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills. When the organic matter decomposes in a landfill it undergoes a process of decomposition that is different from how it would decompose on earth’s surface. Inside the landfill, the food waste decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen) instead of aerobically (with oxygen). Simply, when this happens the waste gives off methane gas instead of carbon dioxide. And unfortunately, methane gas is a greenhouse gas that is more detrimental to changing the climate than carbon dioxide!  Shockingly, landfills account for 7% of global methane emissions.

So food waste is harmful to our environment, but it is also even more inadmissible when we understand how many people in the United States are food insecure. How is it possible that we throw away so much food when so many people go hungry? According to Feeding America, one in seven people in the US is at risk of hunger, and when speaking strictly about children in New Mexico, nearly 30% or one in three children is at risk of hunger.   Located here in Albuquerque, Roadrunner Food Bank is an awesome organization that is trying to help bring this commercial food waste to the hungry across New Mexico. Amazingly, they help get food to about 70,000 people who struggle with food insecurity!

So work is being done to help combat the food waste issue. What do you think is the best way to solve this issue? Dumpster diving? Well definitely not here in Albuquerque, but I want to inspire you all to get creative and find ways to combat food waste in your community.

-Posted by Nick

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