According to Assemblymember Irwin in my podcast episode, expiration date ambiguity creates roughly 20% of all food waste in the U.S. This number may seem monstrous, but how is it affecting us in the long run after it is picked up by garbage trucks?
One impact this food has in the long run is methane. In fact, just a year after the food is dumped in landfills, the anaerobic conditions are perfect for Methane-producing bacteria to break down the food and generate methane. Estimates say that 6-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions would disappear if we stopped wasting food. This is the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions. And this methane, like carbon-dioxide, is a greenhouse gas, but much, much more powerful, 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. After 12 years, that methane is broken down into water vapor and carbon dioxide where it will continue to act as a greenhouse gas for centuries. So yes, the next time you throw away food because you are confused about what an expiration date means, you will be affecting the world that your great, great, great grandkid lives in.
I don’t want this post to be dark, but it should instill some fear in you. Enough fear to send letters to your local legislature and to the Senate Agriculture Committee. Enough fear to educate yourself and your friends about the issue. And maybe one day, change will come in this little known phenomena of expiration dates.