Food Waste in Montgomery County: A Threat to Our Air

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More than one third of the food produced in the United States is wasted, and ends up in places like Gude Landfill. Gude is a waste disposal facility located just North of Rockville, only a mile away from Montgomery College. While Gude holds trash bags, empty containers, and other things one might expect, there’s also food. Literal tons of food. Discarded food ends up in landfills like Gude all across the nation, where it slowly rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas even more volatile than carbon dioxide.

The Food Agriculture Organization of United Nations, or FAO, approximates that 40% of our food is wasted each year. While countries of all socioeconomic levels discard roughly the same amount of food in the production process each year, first world consumers waste far more food than less affluent ones. In fact, wealthy countries on their own waste approximately the same amount of food as all of sub-Saharan Africa combined.

North America, which contains two of the richest countries in the world, wastes the greatest amount of food per capita. The US discards approximately 1.3 billion tons every year, equating to $1 trillion dollars of wasted food. While this is a great economic loss, food waste causes more damage to our environment than our wallets.

Food waste generates about 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, and also produces even more than that in methane, an extremely harmful gas which pollutes air in more severe ways than carbon dioxide. The contributions to air pollution which food waste is responsible for is such a significant conflict that it is on the radar of environmental organizations ranging all the way from local to international levels.

Enter Montgomery County, Maryland. Montgomery County is ranked among the top 20 wealthiest counties in the United States, with many of its neighboring counties also making the list to such an extent that the DC, Maryland, and Virginia tri-state area accounts for 12 of the 20 counties listed. Since wealth has been proven to have a direct correlation with the amount of food waste per capita, this issue becomes more important in Montgomery County and surrounding areas than anywhere else.

Although the County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has identified food waste as both a major economic and environmental issue in recent years, they have abstained from developing any major policies or campaigns to address the problem. A 2017 document which served as an official county report on food waste attributed the massive problem to a lack of understanding and education in the general population. The report later explained that food waste is not a commonplace environmental issue, so taking individual actions such as recycling one’s discarded food through compost simply cannot occur.

While Montgomery County did a great job of identifying and describing the lack of education surrounding food waste in 2017, however two years have passed with no notable actions being taken by the government to manifest a concrete solution to the problem. The lack of awareness for food waste, and the lack of awareness for the environmental damage which food waste is causing in Montgomery County is an extremely serious problem. If a government can identify a major problem, than one would hope they would attempt solve it afterwards.