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Pollution Prevention (P2) for Consumers: Food
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What we eat has a big impact on not only our health, but on the environment. Generally, consumers' purchases of locally-grown food benefit the environment because such food does not travel as far and therefore produces less greenhouse gases. Purchases of organic food also benefit the environment because organic food is grown without pesticides. When consumers buy pesticide-free food they also stimulate demand for it, which motivates growers to convert more of their acres to certified organic cropland. Consumer demand for organic food soared during the 1990s, causing farmers and ranchers to add one million acres of certified organic cropland from 1997 to 2001. U.S. organic sales were estimated at $9 to $9.5 billion in 2001.1

Reducing the amount of meat consumed can also benefit the environment. Eighty percent of the water consumed in the United States is used for agriculture,2 with a disproportionate amount going towards livestock production. Soil and water specialists at the University of California Agricultural Extension, estimated that producing one pound of chicken in California required 850 gallons of water, while producing one pound of pork required 1,630 gallons. In contrast, growing one pound of lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes or wheat required only 23 to 25 gallons of water.3 Moreover, farmed animals eat more than 70 percent of the wheat, corn, and other grains that are grown in the United States, but only a small fraction of the calories in these grains is converted to the meat that people eat. The rest is lost as waste. Increasing the direct consumption of grains means that grain calories are utilized more efficiently, and reduces the pressure on farmland to produce large grain crops. Plus, livestock farming is polluting where animal waste is not directly and properly utilized as fertilizer. Farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the US.4 In contrast, a diet rich in organic fruit, vegetables, and grains requires less land and water and may be less polluting.

Consumers can also compost fruit and vegetable wastes. Composting is nature's perfect recycling method; it takes plant and food remains and returns them to the earth so that more plants and food can grow. Composting is further beneficial because it reduces the land disposal or incineration of these wastes, which can be a significant portion of total household garbage. The average family is estimated to waste about 14 percent of its annual food purchases. Overall, more than 28 billion pounds of food are wasted every year in the United States.5 Composting also provides free organic fertilizer.

1USDA Economic Research Service, http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib780/
2USDA Economic Research Service, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/wateruse/
3John Robbins, The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World, Conari Press 2001.
4GAO Report, http://www.gao.gov/archive/1999/rc99205.pdf
5New Jersey DEP article, http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dshw/recycling/foodwast_article.htm

 

 

 

 


 

The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Pollution Prevention (P2) for Consumers Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Contact email: abray@newmoa.org

Hub Last Updated: 1/8/2013