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Environmental Footprint of Food Waste

Our mission at We Don’t Waste is first and foremost to feed the hungry. This is a mission we are proud to accomplish every day. Year to date, the food we recovered has provided 12.2 million servings – nearly double the 6.8 million servings we collected all of last year. This provides many children and families life-saving, nutrient-dense food that may otherwise be unavailable to them.

In a single month we received 74.6 thousand pounds of strawberries, and in one day we have been called to pick up 53.2 thousand pounds of cabbage. For many families around the Denver Metro area, strawberries would be too expensive to buy or just plain unavailable; and cabbage is a nutrient-dense super-food that has an incredible variety of uses. If it weren’t for the food reclamation that We Don’t Waste provides, all this food would be rotting in a landfill. All of the strawberries and cabbage we picked up made it into the hands of families who needed food. This is exactly why our supporters get behind our mission – we give food to those in need every single day.

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Pallets of Strawberries
Pallets of fresh Strawberries

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Boxes of Cabbage
Boxes of fresh Cabbage

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As we reflect on the food we have provided to those in need, we cannot ignore the fact that this food would have otherwise been wasted and never gone to a hungry person. However, something we do not consider as much is how reclaiming unused food affects our environment. One of the largest parts of our environmental footprint is in the water required to grow our food. The water footprint of our food supply is huge – 92 percent of the world’s fresh water goes toward producing food.[1] That cabbage we distributed to the community was grown with approximately 1.5 million gallons of water.[2]

Empire State building water backgroundMembers of our hunger fighting network also provide us with high quality protein – beef, chicken and pork. In 2016, we have recovered over 94.1 thousand pounds of protein. This food is incredibly valuable to low-income families. Colorado families with SNAP benefits (food stamps) receive only $4.20 per day.[3] While the impact of this low budget on the hungry is obvious, the impact on the environment is not as well known. It is very difficult to approximate the amount of water it takes to produce an item based on size alone. According to the USGS, 1/4 pound of hamburger takes an estimated 460 gallons of water to produce. This lead us to wonder – about how much water did it take to produce the protein We Don’t Waste recovered so far this year? Looking at the average water footprint per pound of the protein we have collected, we can conservatively estimate that it took 91.4 million gallons of water to produce all that protein.[2] The amount of water will fill 92 percent of the Empire State Building!

Food waste is unacceptable at any level. Not only is the cost of food waste high, but it also wastes a precious resource – water. Since 2014, we have recovered over 5.3 million pounds of food. Food that instead of being a drain on our planet’s resources, gets to enrich the lives of the hungry around the Denver Metro Area.

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[1] http://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Hoekstra-Mekonnen-2012-WaterFootprint-of-Humanity.pdf

[2] Based upon figures from http://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/product-gallery/

[3] http://www.hungerfreecolorado.org/hungerfacts/ Average amount of benefits received

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