This Congressional hearing explored the role of composting and sustainable dining in combating global warming and climate change. This document is professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction.
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Global warming has been linked to the cars that we drive, the energy supply, and now the food that we buy. From farm to fork, our food often travels long distances to reach our plate. The carbon dioxide emissions from these food miles traveled are compounded by the methane produced when food waste is tossed in landfills.
We cannot continue to spite the land that feeds us. The witnesses before us today are all pursuing sustainable dining options that can alleviate the impact of our food consumption on global warming. The impact is prevalent in the three responsibilities of a dining facility: procurement, consumption, and disposal. Purchasing local food reduces food miles traveled. Using renewable, biodegradable plates and utensils reduces oil consumption and waste. Turning table scraps and leftover food into compost returns nutrients to farms and reduces global warming.
The food Americans eat increasingly comes from greater distances. From 1970 to 1980, our food miles traveled increased 1,300 to 1,500 miles. A 2002 World Watch Institute report stated that food in the United States traveled between 1,500 and 2,400 miles. The typical American prepared meal contains on average ingredients from at least 5 countries outside of the United States. By favoring more local fare, the CO2 emissions associated with food travel can decrease significantly. A University of Washington study found that a plate of Washington-sourced foods resulted in 33 percent fewer CO2 emissions than a plate of similar foods from their most popularly imported countries or States of origin.
Even if a meal is entirely local, its contribution to global warming continues after the plates are cleared. Yard trimmings and food waste constitute 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, and half of the garbage at restaurants is estimated to be food waste. As this food rots in the landfill, it produces methane. If that methane escapes into the atmosphere, it traps 20 times more heat than CO2. Food in landfills will continue to contribute to methane emissions. A 2006 study predicted that, by 2025, food waste will increase by 44 percent worldwide. This methane buildup is deplorable because it is preventable. Food waste can be recycled into compost, resulting in fewer emissions and in new economic products. Compost soil can be used to fertilize crops and landscaping and support green jobs in food waste recycling. The reduced garbage load can result in lowered disposal fees as well. Using materials that can be converted to compost further relieves the strain on our landfills and steers facilities away from petroleum-based plastic products.