KC Nattinger's picture
Pre-purchase food waste, part one: Residential
KC Nattinger
December 13, 2011 - 3:15pm

Pre-purchase waste is waste produced before a product is even sold. Unlike when a person makes the choice to save leftovers from a meal (post-purchase waste), pre-purchase waste is often more difficult for us as individuals to reduce.

Today I am writing about something absurd I saw in a trash can last fall. Apples. I know everyone throws out (or better yet, composts!) an apple once in a while—one that got bruised or that we just couldn’t finish. But in this trash can, I saw more than 100 apples! They were just sitting in a trash can outside a house in the small rural town of Port Angeles. Who would buy so many apples and then throw them away?

The answer to this riddle? The apples weren’t from the store: they were from a tree in the front yard of this house.

Every year during the fall, unknown amounts of fruit fall to the ground unused to rot or be scooped up and tossed into the trash. This is fruit that grows on trees in residential yards or in abandoned orchards. Even in commercial orchards and farms, large amounts of food decompose on the ground.

In the urban environment, this wasted fruit creates a mess and is often sent to the landfill. I know we aren’t living in the Great Depression any more, but it strikes me as strange that more people don’t eat the fruit that grows on their own trees. So many people these days are concerned with “buying local” in order to reduce the distance our food is shipped: it doesn’t get much more local than your own backyard!

An apple you buy in the store (even one that’s organic and local) was grown on land that used to be habitat for wildlife. Someone had to drive out to pick it. Then the apple had to be shipped to the store (less distance if it’s local!). But the apple growing in your backyard doesn’t need a warehouse to be stored in. It doesn’t need a truck to haul it. It doesn’t need a corporate executive to sit in an office calculating how much to charge for it. All it needs is a little care during the year, and for you to go out and pick it when it’s ripe in the fall.

Just think, for every apple a person eats from their backyard instead of buying it at the store, less waste is produced. But what happens when you’ve eaten all you can from your backyard tree? No one is going to support a law that requires people to make gallons and gallons of applesauce from all their leftover apples—that sounds silly even to me, an environmental educator who lives and breathes this stuff every day. So what can we do as a community to solve this waste problem?

Gleaning is the answer that people in communities around the country have found to this question. Groups of volunteers get together to harvest fruit or vegetables that would normally decompose on the ground, or worse, end up in a trash can. The volunteers take home what they can use, and the rest is donated to food banks, senior meal programs, and soup kitchens. The time I have spent volunteering with the “Olympic Gleaners,” the gleaning group in Port Angeles near our Olympic National Park campus, has been both fun and rewarding (SO many apples and carrots!). If preventing good food from entering the waste stream is important to you, and you like having fun outside with your community, try connecting with your local gleaning group. You can get your fill of fresh fruits and vegetables, help provide food to those in need in your community, and help the earth—who knew it could be this easy!

Don't forget to tune in next week for part two of our exploration of pre-purchase waste: commercial waste.

Learn more about where our waste goes, take the Garbology challenge!



Rachel Benditt's picture

Gleaning sounds awesome! I walk by lots of trees just bursting with fruit in the fall months - it's good to know someone is thinking about how to make sure that food doesn't go to waste.