Viewpoint: Food waste is a problem we can solve

By Mary Ann Handel and Barbara Tennent 

Food waste, global and local, is an enormous problem, economically, morally and environmentally, but one that is being addressed locally by A Climate to Thrive (ACTT) and other groups.  

Worldwide, 1.3 billion tons of food, or one-third of all food produced is wasted, an economic cost of $48.3 billion. Eighty-three percent of food waste comes from homes and businesses. We waste an astonishing 25 percent of the food we buy, equivalent to throwing away one full bag of groceries out of every four purchased. 

This waste is in the face of food insecurity all around us, a moral lapse at the population level. An estimated 16 percent of Mainers experience food insecurity, including on Mount Desert Island, where food insecurity has risen during the pandemic. Food waste has substantial environmental impact. Most food waste ends up in landfills where it decomposes and releases methane gas, which has even more heat-trapping capability than carbon dioxide. Up to 30 percent of greenhouse gases are attributed to the global food system. 

Food waste is generated at every level of the food chain – from producers to your refrigerator and table – due to issues like overproduction, product damage, poor refrigeration during transport and storage, confusion over date labeling and over-buying by the consumer.  

Over-production and transport issues require systemic solutions, beyond the individual. But once the food hits MDI, there is much that local people can and are doing! Statewide, supporting food banks feed hungry people and divert millions of pounds of usable food from the potential waste stream. For example, on MDI, the Bar Harbor Hannaford donates perishable, still-edible items to the Bar Harbor Food Pantry, and ACTT volunteers glean from farm markets for the food pantries. 

Schools are a major source of post-producer food waste, but students and faculty at MDI High School are tackling this by taking inventory of food consumed and wasted to adjust ordering to match needs. The high school and other local institutions and businesses are sending discarded food to AgriCycle for commercial composting. Reduction of over-buying lowers waste and composting reduces food waste disposal in landfills. 

As individuals, there is much we can do. Inventory our own food waste and discover its sources. Plan meals, check our fridges and pantries for what is on hand, make shopping lists (and stick to them!) and buy only what we will use before it spoils. Avoid bulk purchases and come-on offers for “economy” sizes when they are more than our household needs. In Hancock County, consider buying through FarmDrop, an online venue for locally produced food, where local farmers, bakers and other vendors deliver only what has been ordered, thus cutting waste. When eating out, order only what we can eat, and request small portions. Check our refrigerator temperature and circulation to ensure adequate cooling; don’t overpack items. Revive and use foods past their prime; resuscitate wilted veggies or use them to make and freeze vegetable broth. Buy blemished but edible produce – if it doesn’t look or smell funny, it will do just fine in stir-fry or soup! If possible, compost kitchen scraps at home – ACTT annually facilitates compost bin sales. Some farm shares allow for compost drop-offs and local composting services are developing throughout the region; keep alert for new developments. 

Being mindful of our food use benefits everyone. We can all contribute to limiting food waste on MDI, which will reduce our grocery bills, improve food security and lower the environmental impacts of wasted food. 


Mary Ann Handel and Barbara Tennent both live in Bar Harbor. 

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