Throwing away food isn't just wasteful — it's hurting our planet in a big way.
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Ad Council - Food Waste

The next time you go grocery shopping, throw about 40% of your food in the trash on your way out.

If that sounds a little ridiculous, you're right — it is. But it also puts the issue of food waste into perspective. In the U.S., that's how much of our food goes uneaten and most of it is sent straight to the landfill.

When you're tossing those wilted veggies into the trash at the end of the week, you may as well be throwing dollar bills in there as well. And that's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce (sorry, I had to). Not only does food waste affect your bottom line — it has an enormous environmental impact, too.


And now that summer is here, it’s easy to see where waste can happen. The warmer months are filled with plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables — watermelon, arugula, peaches, zucchini — and there's no shortage of potlucks or lazy evenings on the patio to enjoy your spoils. Though, for many of us, it literally spoils.

Photo by Cecilia Par / Unsplash.

But the good news is that a weekend barbecue is the perfect opportunity to get a little eco-friendlier and start cutting back on all that food waste.

Here are 23 reasons you should get started today.  

1. You're probably wasting a lot more food than you think.

It might not seem like you're wasting all that much, but it adds up. Think about that time you bought too many tomatoes and didn't have time to eat them all before they started to wrinkle. Or that time you stacked your plate up a little too high at the neighborhood get-together then tossed your paper plate of food in the trash when you were full. Or what about that time you didn't like how bruised that apple looked. If you took all that food over the course of a year and threw it on a scale, it'd weigh in at about 300 pounds.

2. Interestingly enough, though, we didn't always waste so much.

Food waste has increased pretty drastically in the last few decades. Since 1974, food waste has increased 50% in the U.S.

Many experts think cheaper food and higher cosmetic standards are the culprits. We're able to get more food, so we buy a lot more than we probably need and value it a little less.  We're also way pickier about what it looks like (#Foodie), and while aesthetics are great for Instagram, be sure you’re using “imperfect” produce, too.

Photo by Eaters Collective/Unsplash.

3. With waste on the rise, it's not too surprising that the U.S. actually leads the world in food waste.

A whopping 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted from farm to fork. This is the highest of any country — well — ever.

4. And consumers are actually the largest source of that food waste.

In our homes, we waste more than grocery stores, restaurants, and any other part of the supply chain. In fact, we account for nearly half of all food that ends up wasted. Yikes. Not to mention, if you added up the food we waste at restaurants or ignored at the store because it looked “a little funny,” the amount of waste we’re responsible for only increases from there.

5. Of all the food we throw out, animal products are the main foods we waste.

Around a third of the animal products Americans are buying go straight to the landfill. Broken down, 11.5% of food wasted is meat, poultry, and fish; 19% is dairy products like cheese and milk; and 2% is eggs.

6. All this waste isn't great news for landfills.

In fact, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, food accounts for 21% of what you'll find in a landfill. If you compare that with the other stuff that goes into landfills, food waste is the top contributor.

7. Food waste creates a pollution problem, too.

The amount of climate change pollution that wasted food generates per year is equivalent to 37 million cars. Yes, million. That‘s a hefty price for the planet to pay.

8. Rotting food also accounts for 25% of methane emissions, which is even more harmful than CO2.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it warms the planet 86 times as much as CO2.

9. And when you pitch your food, you're also wasting freshwater.

In fact, 25% of all freshwater use in the U.S. produces food that goes uneaten.

The amount of water wasted can be hard to picture — but it’s staggering. Wasted food uses more fresh water than Texas, California, and Ohio combined.

Photo by Dylan de Jonge/Unsplash.

10. All that meat we're throwing away is one of the biggest culprits of all that wasted water.

Meat requires the most water usage of any food to produce. For a single pound of beef to make its way to your table, it's the equivalent of running your shower for over six hours (or, put another way, 12,000 gallons of water).

Maybe at that next barbecue, you might consider black bean burgers or grilled veggies instead — both of which require significantly less water to produce — or at least be mindful of how many burgers you throw on the grill.

11. Don't forget the fertilizer that helps your food grow.

18% of fertilizer winds up down the drain when food is wasted, which adds up to be about 3.9 billion pounds of nutrients.

12. Food scraps could be a better fertilizer anyway.

Composting food scraps is a safer alternative that fertilizes our soil while still being safe for human and planetary health, which is a missed opportunity to say the least.

13. There's an economic price to pay for all that food we're not eating as well.

That cost is about $218 billion. Put another way, a four-person family loses something like $1,800 a year on wasted food.

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier/Unsplash.

14. In fact, cutting back on food waste could save the average person about $375 a year.

You might actually be able to pay off some of that student loan, make a donation to a cause you care about, or you could just buy yourself something nice.

15. The good news is that public opinions around food waste are shifting.

A 2016 public opinion poll by Ad Council revealed that 74% of respondents felt the issue of food waste was important to them.

Photo by Max Delsid/Unsplash.

16. It's about time — because the impact of food waste is only increasing.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the global population in 2050 is expected to demand 1.5 to 2 times more food than we needed in 2005. If waste levels remain the same, this will only intensify the environmental impact.

17. But if we could reduce the amount of food we're wasting, that impact won't be so drastic.

To meet the growing demands of our rising population, wasting less food could help reduce the need to grow more. By making better use of what we already have, we can lessen the effects of overpopulation.

18. And as it turns out, reducing waste isn't complicated. In fact, what you're throwing away doesn't even belong in the trash.

If you take a closer look at what you're throwing away, you'll start to notice that much of what constitutes going "bad" is cosmetic or easily fixed. While you might think wilted or softened veggies and bruised fruits aren’t any good, it doesn't actually mean they've gone bad. Learning the difference between “sell by” and “use by” dates can also be helpful in reducing that waste. And when in doubt, composting is always a better option.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash.

19. It also helps to know how to properly store your food.

Many reasons we throw away food could be eliminated entirely by storing food properly. Avocados and pears, for example, will last a lot longer if you put them in the refrigerator after they're ripe, and — fun fact — carrots keep a lot longer if they're submerged in water (who knew?). And if Alexa is a part of your household, there’s a skill that can answer your food storage questions.

20. A little creativity with cooking goes a long way.

Wilted veggies? Throw them in a stir-fry. Mushy leftover fruit salad? Sounds like an awesome smoothie. If you aren't sure where to start, there are online recipe resources that make this a snap, and apps like Handpick can help you come up with the perfect recipe with whatever ingredients you have laying around.

21. Your freezer is a mighty weapon against food waste, too.

Making smarter use of our freezers can be another way to reduce food waste, yet most people underutilize them. Freezing leftovers in meal-size portions can be the perfect lunch for a rainy day.

Photo by Jason Leung/Unsplash.

22. When cooking bigger meals, plan ahead and do the math.

If you aren't sure exactly how much food to make, no problem! When throwing that summer potluck or pool party, tools like The Guest-imator can help you calculate exactly how much food to prepare to ensure none of it ends up wasted.

23. And remember, nobody's perfect.

Reducing food waste isn't about absolute perfection. That moldy piece of bread you threw away yesterday doesn't mean you've failed the planet — because, ew, no one should eat that, seriously (though while you’re at it, consider composting it instead!).

Taking it a step at a time is more than enough — because it's those small steps, when we all take them together, that make the greatest difference.

"Oh my God, I'm in the mouth of a whale."

Those aren't the words commercial lobster diver Michael Packard expected to go through his head on Friday—or any day—but that's what he thought when he found himself swallowed whole by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

Packard dives to the bottom of the ocean every day to collect lobsters, but he's never had an encounter like this one before. When he was about 45 feet down, he suddenly found himself enveloped in darkness. He told NBC 10 Boston it hit him like a truck, and for 30 seconds he was trapped inside a humpback whale's mouth. His scuba regulator fell out of his mouth, which caused extra concern momentarily, but he was able to retrieve it. However, during the ordeal, he was sure he was going to die.

"I just was struggling, but I knew this was this massive creature. There was no way I was going to bust myself out of there," Packard said. He thought of his two sons, ages 12 and 16, his wife, and his mother, believing he was going to die inside a whale and leave them all behind.

Keep Reading Show less

"Oh my God, I'm in the mouth of a whale."

Those aren't the words commercial lobster diver Michael Packard expected to go through his head on Friday—or any day—but that's what he thought when he found himself swallowed whole by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

Packard dives to the bottom of the ocean every day to collect lobsters, but he's never had an encounter like this one before. When he was about 45 feet down, he suddenly found himself enveloped in darkness. He told NBC 10 Boston it hit him like a truck, and for 30 seconds he was trapped inside a humpback whale's mouth. His scuba regulator fell out of his mouth, which caused extra concern momentarily, but he was able to retrieve it. However, during the ordeal, he was sure he was going to die.

"I just was struggling, but I knew this was this massive creature. There was no way I was going to bust myself out of there," Packard said. He thought of his two sons, ages 12 and 16, his wife, and his mother, believing he was going to die inside a whale and leave them all behind.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."