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It's Food Waste Prevention Week: Illinois Extension has tips and programs to address this issue


The first week in April is designated as Food Waste Prevention Week (April 1-7). University of Illinois Extension is spotlighting this national campaign to raise awareness around the issue of food waste and its economic, social, and environmental implications, aiming to inspire change at home and in our schools.

Why the intense focus on the food waste crisis? Because the ramifications of food waste extend well beyond discarded scraps. Every time food is tossed out, whether at home or in a restaurant, it means wasting the energy, resources, water, and labor invested in growing, processing, and transporting that food to your plate.

Have you ever considered the environmental repercussions of food waste? That seemingly harmless act of tossing a pound of bananas into the trash wastes as much energy as a 42-minute shower! And if that doesn't give you pause, consider this: wasting a pound of ground beef is equivalent to leaving your faucet running non-stop for over 6 hours! Additionally, food waste significantly contributes to our carbon footprint. If food waste were a country, its greenhouse gas emissions from landfills would rank third globally, trailing only China and the U.S. Surprisingly, U.S. consumers discard an estimated pound of food per person every day. Over time, this wastage can significantly impact your family's finances, costing an average of $1500 per year or even more. Consider the possibilities if you redirected this money instead of squandering it in landfills, with the added benefit of helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States, public schools can be a major player in reducing food waste since they serve over 30 million children daily through the National School Lunch Program. Recognizing this, Illinois Extension staff have taken proactive steps by conducting tray waste studies and implementing interventions to empower schools in addressing this critical issue. For example, at the Rock Island Center for Math and Science (RICMS), SNAP-Ed educator Tayler Louscher, SNAP-Ed program coordinator Mitchell Walker, and nutrition and wellness educator Kristin Bogdonas conducted a tray waste study. They identified opportunities for waste reduction, such as utilizing a share table for unopened items and educating students about meal components. To further raise awareness, the staff produced an engaging educational video featuring themselves as "Food Detectives" (watch the video here: Every classroom at the school will watch the video, engage in discussions on actionable steps, and create posters for the cafeteria. As an incentive for participation, the classroom that achieves the greatest reduction in food waste will receive a special reward, to be announced during a follow-up tray study by the Illinois Extension team on April 16th.

Beyond schools, Illinois Extension emphasizes individual responsibility in combating food waste. Simple adjustments in food planning, preparation, and storage can yield significant reductions, benefiting both wallets and the environment.

Practical tips for households include conducting inventory checks before shopping, prioritizing fresh ingredients, and practicing mindful dining out by sharing meals or taking leftovers home. Find additional tips on food waste reduction from the USDA's website:

During Earth Month, Illinois Extension calls on everyone to adopt these practices and spread awareness in their communities. By collectively embracing mindful practices, we can make substantial strides in curbing food waste and preserving our planet, one meal at a time.

For more information on reducing food waste and the University of Illinois Extension’s initiatives, please contact Tayler, Mitchell, or Kristin at the Illinois Extension office, 321 W 2nd Ave, Milan, IL 61264, (309) 756-9978

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.