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  • MUSIC

  • GRANT GERLOCK: There's a problem with America's food system.

  • It's not how much food we make.

  • It's how much we end up throwing away.

  • Pound for pound, more food goes into landfills

  • across the country than any other single source of waste.

  • The more food we throw away,

  • the bigger the problem becomes.

  • GAIL TAVILL: When you put food in a landfill

  • it creates methane gas, which is massively more potent

  • than carbon dioxide in terms of

  • climate change and greenhouse gases.

  • GERLOCK: But more people are realizing -

  • all that food waste could be a valuable resource.

  • KARIN PAGE: I mean, every farmer I work with is so generous,

  • and they would rather have their food feed people

  • than even feed the chickens or compost it.

  • JACOB HICKEY: If we can just pull that stuff from

  • our industrial sites and our grocery stores

  • and also our school cafeterias

  • then we can pull that out of the landfill.

  • GERLOCK: They're writing a recipe for change,

  • so the food that's being thrown out doesn't all go to waste.

  • DAN NICKEY: People are getting on board.

  • People are wanting to know where their food comes from.

  • At the same point they saying, okay, where does it go.

  • MUSIC

  • GRANT GERLOCK: There's more food available in the U.S.

  • than ever before.

  • But we're also throwing more food away.

  • The amount of food Americans waste

  • has been on the rise for decades and that has serious

  • economic and environmental consequences.

  • We begin our food waste story at the end of the line

  • - the landfill.

  • GERLOCK: You put it on the curb.

  • It goes away.

  • Never to be seen again.

  • Of course it all goes somewhere.

  • The good thing?

  • It's taken away and you don't have to think about it,

  • or smell it, again.

  • The bad thing?

  • If you don't have to think about it,

  • you probably don't.

  • But once you start digging into it, you find out -

  • what you throw away and where it goes,

  • does make a difference.

  • There are those who do have your garbage on their minds.

  • Jack Chappelle is one of them.

  • He sorts garbage.

  • States and cities hire Chappelle's consulting company

  • to look through their trash and tell them what it's made of.

  • JACK CHAPPELLE: You want to know how long the landfill can last,

  • what materials you can get out of it,

  • what materials you can take out of the waste stream

  • that makes the landfill last even longer.

  • GERLOCK: Chappelle finds that a lot

  • of what we throw away doesn't have to be.

  • It could be recycled.

  • Nationwide more than 8 million tons of glass

  • goes in the landfill.

  • 24 million tons of cardboard and paper.

  • CHAPPELLE: You still find an awful lot of bank statements

  • and checks people tear up.

  • Uh, tin cans.

  • GERLOCK: Then there's food.

  • CHAPPELLE: In the country you get more peelings,

  • you get more vegetables.

  • When you're in the city

  • you get a lot more fast food containers

  • with half eaten food in them.

  • A lot more pizza boxes

  • GERLOCK: The Environmental Protection Agency

  • estimates that, Nationally, about 20 percent

  • of what goes into the landfill each year is food.

  • Add all the food together from L.A. to New York

  • and America throws away nearly 35 million tons each year.

  • 35 million tons.

  • That's almost 100 Empire State buildings, made of food.

  • Enough food goes uneaten in the United States in one day

  • to feed the Denver metro area for 10 weeks.

  • More than 2 million people could eat

  • from New Year's to St. Patrick's Day.

  • DAN NICKEY: We just have so much of an abundance of food

  • that we don't realize the value of it.

  • GERLOCK: Dan Nickey from the Iowa Waste Reduction Center

  • works with businesses to cut back on

  • what they throw away, including food.

  • Nickey says waste happens at every level of the food chain.

  • NICKEY: You have food that is in warehouses that expires

  • and they throw it way.

  • Maybe they made a mistake

  • and it doesn't have the flavoring they want.

  • They don't want to sell it, so they throw it away.

  • I think it's part of the culture today

  • that compared to when our parents grew up.

  • Now we don't look at food as a resource,

  • we look at it as a given.

  • GERLOCK: From farmers to consumers, fruits and vegetables

  • make up a third of the food loss in the U.S.

  • Dairy products cover another 20 percent

  • of what goes uneaten.

  • When you look at the amount of food going unused,

  • the costs add up environmentally and financially.

  • First let's look at the money.

  • NICKEY: 40 percent of all the food in this country,

  • never makes it to the table.

  • At a cost of 165 billion dollars.

  • GERLOCK: And that's just in the U.S.

  • Globally, food losses add up to 750 billion dollars.

  • Behind those dollar signs is a significant

  • environmental threat when food is buried in a landfill.

  • NICKEY: You're going to have generation of methane gas.

  • Methane gas is a greenhouse gas which

  • is a contributor to global warming.

  • GERLOCK: As a greenhouse gas, methane is 20-25 times stronger

  • than just carbon dioxide.

  • One thing landfills are able to do is capture the methane

  • before it escapes into the atmosphere.

  • It's happening at hundreds of landfills across the country.

  • The landfill in Lincoln, Nebraska started

  • collecting methane gas in 2013 and sending it here

  • to a generating station where the gas

  • is now burned to make energy.

  • TOM DAVLIN: That pipe comes from the landfill.

  • The landfill is located about a mile and a half west of us.

  • After gas is processed and cleaned then we compress it,

  • we send it through the pipeline underground

  • into the building and then into the engines.

  • The average home uses 1000kwh per month.

  • So in an hour we can supply enough energy

  • to supply 3200 typical Nebraska homes.

  • GERLOCK: 32 hundred homes powered by gas

  • from food and other organic waste.

  • For Dan Nickey, that kind of system may be a good

  • backup for food that's already underground,

  • but it's not the solution to the problem because food

  • is still taking up valuable landfill space.

  • And, he says, there are better things to

  • do with the food we don't eat.

  • NICKEY: We need to stop thinking of it as a waste.

  • Even though it's maybe not used for its intended purpose,

  • it still is not a waste because it still has value.

  • It's only a waste if we put it in a landfill.

  • GERLOCK: And that is the last place he says it should go.

  • GERLOCK: Why does so much food go to waste?

  • One reason might be that it's so affordable

  • it's considered disposable.

  • Americans spend about 10 percent of their incomes on food.

  • That's the smallest percentage

  • of any country in the world.

  • But it's not that way for everyone.

  • 49 million Americans sometimes have trouble

  • putting food on the table.

  • Much of what is currently being wasted

  • could be used to feed families.

  • Randy Mason introduces us to some people hungry

  • to help make that happen.

  • KARIN PAGE: "Spread out all the way to the end and

  • people can have their own little patch."

  • RANDY MASON: On a mild Saturday morning in June,

  • a team of volunteers arrives at this small farm

  • in Kansas City, Kansas, ready to glean.

  • That is, gather the unharvested lettuce and

  • other crops that might otherwise never be picked

  • and waste away in the fields.

  • PAGE: "If you fill your bags to the top,

  • but you can tie it shut, that's three pounds.

  • So this is like three pounds right here!"

  • MASON: Another day, it could be a cornfield near Baldwin City.

  • Bill Conaway: Gleaning is biblical.

  • Thousands of years old, so we're getting back

  • to some of the basics.

  • MASON: Or maybe a patch of beets and greens

  • in Platte City, Missouri.

  • PAGE: When we're gleaning,

  • they'll say you can have this row here,

  • and we take everything,

  • and it's after they're done selling that crop.

  • So it could be that the mustard is close to bolting

  • or has already bolted.

  • I mean, every farmer I work with is so generous,

  • and they would rather have their food feed people

  • than even the chickens or compost it.

  • LINDA OUSLEY: We started with a non-profit

  • called the society of St. Andrews.

  • I actually opened that office in 2008.

  • And over the next six years we salvaged more

  • than 15 million pounds of food to feed people,

  • fifteen million pounds!

  • MASON: Though Ousley might on occasion, secure a

  • donation of potatoes or some other crop by the semi-load,

  • the bulk of what they collect still

  • comes the old fashioned way,

  • one fruit or vegetable at a time.

  • Food that's been left behind,

  • largely because of aesthetics.

  • CLAY JARRETT: We've been to farms where they have

  • squash this big, but that's too big

  • to go on grocery store shelves

  • so you pick everything that's ugly or blemished,

  • but still great edible food.

  • (Water being sprayed on vegetables)

  • PAGE: I don't care what it is, whether it's a

  • strawberry or a beet or mustard right out of the ground.

  • It's so good.

  • (Crunching)

  • MASON: And nutritionally good for the most

  • food insecure portion of our population as well.

  • PAGE: When people do food drives,

  • they're getting cans and boxes,

  • they're not getting fresh produce.

  • And everybody loves fresh produce.

  • To me it just completes the whole fun cycle of this.

  • Violin playing

  • MASON: Even crops that make it out of the field

  • don't all make it to consumers.

  • Farmers markets like this one on the square in

  • Fayetteville, Arkansas, showcase lots of great

  • locally grown produce, but by Saturday night,

  • much of what hasn't been sold may well be tossed out,

  • a troubling thought when you consider

  • 1 in 7 Americans may be underfed.

  • Don Bennett's Tri-cycle farm is one of

  • several grassroots groups in Fayetteville,

  • determined to take an active role in dumpster diversion.

  • DON BENNETT: We do our part in our neighborhood

  • and distribute close to about 3-4 hundred pounds

  • of food each Sunday.

  • MASON: And at the University of Arkansas,

  • another aspect of food waste is being addressed -

  • leftovers from restaurants and cafeterias.

  • It is in a sense another kind of gleaning program.

  • Five days a week, a student group called

  • "Razorback Recovery" is saving salads, sandwiches,

  • and baked goods from dining halls, retail sites,

  • and events on campus and taking them to

  • Fayetteville food pantries.

  • CLAIRE ALLISON: The food's already there,

  • it's already made it to the right standards

  • and kept at the appropriate temperature.

  • And so instead of it being pitched into the dumpster,

  • they just put it in our fridge

  • and we take it out to the agencies who need it.

  • MASON: The school's food service provider had some

  • serious concerns about liability--What if their

  • leftovers were mishandled and someone became ill?

  • Nicole Civita, a faculty member at the university's

  • food law program, says that is a common concern,

  • but one that was largely laid to rest