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Behavior Change: Food Waste and Overconsumption of Electricity
Breaking a habit that harms the environment isn’t always easy, nor is it easy to sometimes recognize a bad environmental habit. While observing the community, I’ve become aware of two habits that need to be addressed: food waste and electricity overuse.
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Food waste means the loss of food in both quantity and quality and refers to discarding food between the food supply chain and consumers or market. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “an estimated one third of all food produced globally is either lost or wasted.” In a world where there is still world hunger, this is both unacceptable and appalling. What’s worse is a lot of people are unintentionally contributing to this food waste problem. They contribute by going out to eat and leaving their half-eaten plates to be thrown away or by tossing out unfinished food instead of choosing to have leftovers. Furthermore, a large amount of food is thrown out by both consumers and markets after the ‘best by’ date despite the label not being an expiration date.
Food waste is not a new issue. However, it is becoming an increasing problem because “nearly 1.3 billion tons of food are lost along the food supply chain” and this food waste is “estimated to contribute to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by accumulating approximately 3.3 billion [tons] of CO2 into the atmosphere per year” (Paritosh, Kunwar, et al, 2017). Cracking down on this issue would, according to FAO, “lead to more efficient land use and better water resource management with positive impacts on climate change and livelihoods.”
A study on household food waste in Montenegro discovered that in “middle and high-income countries, such as Montenegro, food is to a significant extent wasted at the consumption stage, meaning that it is discarded even if it is still suitable for human consumption” and that’s where the problem lies. Those who can afford to waste food choose to do so without thinking about the consequences. However, there was still a large percentage of households that try not to waste food:
“The results show respondents’ knowledge about food labels, which might eventually affect food wastage among consumers and the respondents’ attitudes towards food waste and food habits. It was indicated that 86.5% of the respondents understand and have knowledge about “use by” label as food must be eaten or thrown away by this date. This result could be attributed to the high educational level of the respondents. Whereas only 11.1% regarded the “best before” label as food is still safe to eat after this date. It was evident that 90.8% of the respondents do worry about food waste and they try to avoid it, while 6.5% are aware about food waste problems but have no intention to change their current habits. Moreover, 82.3% of the respondents indicated that they dispose of “very little”, or “reasonable amount” of uneaten food.”
Educating people more about food waste as well as food labels has proven to, overtime, increase the chances of people not wasting as much food and instead choosing to have leftovers or use environmentally friendly ways of disposing of food like composting.
There are easy ways to start changing your harmful habits into environmentally friendly ones. For instance, when going out to eat at restaurants, large servings is the norm. Instead of leaving your uneaten food, get a to-go container and have leftovers. Alternatively, you can bring your own reusable container and take it in with you to the restaurant. With fast food, if you can, reheat it. Though, usually, trying to reheat fast food doesn’t work. In that case, it’s better if, when going to fast food places, that you don’t order the largest serving option. Instead of going for that large, try a medium or a small if it’s available. Additionally, limiting how many times one goes to a fast food chain would also contribute to bringing down the food waste. Instead of going every week, try to go only a couple times a month, if not less.
While tracking my behavior, I noted how I don’t leave the house much so despite spending a lot on fast food, I only go once or twice every couple of weeks. Instead, I focused on how much food I actually finish when going out to eat as well as, when eating at home, whether or not I’m wasting food. However, last week I had got Taco Bell since I was having a busy day, so I took a picture of my serving size and how much I was able to eat and what was left over and wasted. I had made the mistake of getting a larger size instead of just getting two side orders of chips and cheese with a soft taco. The first photo was taken before I began eating. The second photo is what was left over. I was only able to eat the taco and some of my nachos.
Despite trying my best at limiting how much food I waste, when it comes to eating fast food at places like Taco Bell, I always get too much and it’s mostly because I overestimate how much I will eat. But, me and my family are better when it comes to food that we eat at home. For example, instead of wasting a lot of money on name brand foods, we buy generic for almost everything. Additionally, we eat a lot more leftovers when we cook our food. If we have pasta, that will last us nearly an entire week if we have other leftover food to eat.
The goal to limiting food waste in my family is to shrink serving sizes when we go out to eat since it’s always leftovers at home and that’s where the least amount of food waste is. If we watch, or measure, how much we go out to eat, we can monitor our waste a bit more. It’s an attainable goal because, with reinforcement, we can go into restaurants prepared with food containers that we can reuse, prompting us to use them instead of remembering to get to-go containers from the waiter. Furthermore, preparing leftovers when going out to eat doesn’t have an expiration date. It’s something we can do all the time and directly addresses the issue with wasting food regarding going out and eating. We have a habit of going the easy route when we are tired and don’t want to cook. As consequence, we go out to eat and waste food. But we can reinforce saving food by preparing with food containers. Furthermore, since I’ve noted that overestimating how much I will eat is the biggest problem I have regarding food waste, I will order smaller servings when going out to eat and not throw away any leftover food. If I do this for two weeks, I will reward myself by going to my favorite restaurant. If I don’t do this, I will donate $10 to the World Hunger Relief group.
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Electricity consumption is another bad habit of mine that I have tried to get better at maintaining. I’m the person in the house who annoyingly leaves on every light she turns on. I’ve also noticed that I have a lot of plugged in devices that aren’t in use. I used to have my laptop plugged up when not on it. There are several consoles that are plugged up and haven’t been touched in a couple months now. However, there are two ways I use up a lot of electricity and yet to find an alternative solution to. I leave the TV on all night when sleeping so that I can listen to instrumental music as well as sleeping with a nightlight plugged up (which I sometimes forget to turn off). As consequence, the electricity bill has increased over time, even if by a small increment.
According to our textbook, “the United States uses over 20% of the world supply of oil, 18,490,000 barrels per day.” The authors talk about how many people don’t realize how much energy we indirectly use but it’s especially true about electricity. Not a lot of people think about how much our electronics use up because the rewards for using them are so great; keeping in touch with friends and family, cat memes, computer games, social media, and just general entertainment. It doesn’t help that you can access nearly any information you want with just a couple taps of your finger on a cellphone.
As the textbook discusses, it’s hard for some people to see overconsumption of electricity as a huge issue because they don’t realize where it comes from or what the effects of it are. But, as the textbook explains, “the problem is that humans have released extra carbon into the atmosphere that would otherwise have remained trapped underground.” We are steadily depleting earth’s capacity to absorb this carbon and, as consequence, are “dramatically decreasing the size of the earth’s green spaces” as well as causing the planet’s temperatures to heat up and resulting in the greenhouse effect.
When calculating my carbon footprint for class, I used the global footprint calculator provided in our textbook. According to my results, if everyone were to live like me, we would need 3.9 earths to provide for us. That is a terrifying discovery. However, I was given tips to reducing my carbon footprint when using another calculator. It suggested embracing new technology that provides green defaults to help with energy consumption. Electricity consumption is important when it comes to both calculating one’s carbon footprint but also lowering it. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Of the total energy consumed in the United States, about 40% is used to generate electricity, making electricity use an important part of each person’s environmental footprint.” Therefore, it’s important to use renewable resources such as windmills, or solar panels, because having better efficient production and usage of electricity reduces both the amount of resources needed for electricity as well as the amount of greenhouse gases and other air pollution that is emitted as a result of using nonrenewable resources to get our electricity. Furthermore, energy overuse largely contributes to climate change and the future effects of the earth because of all these increasing energy emissions.
While trying to conserve electricity, me and my family haven’t been using the AC unless necessary. Just like, in the winter, we keep the heat low unless needed. We have also bought energy efficient light bulbs. We replaced most of the lights in the house with LED light bulbs. However, there are still some goals we are setting to lower how much electricity we are using. One of our biggest goals is to limit our time on electronics. This is a challenging one considering the time period we are in, but we think it can be managed. Right now, me and my sister spend eight hours on some form of electronics (mostly our cellphones and laptops) because we wake up and immediately get on them or play video games until midnight. It’s especially difficult during summer break when we aren’t required to leave the house to go to school. The only time I leave the house is to go to work or the times I spend with friends and I’m pretty introverted so it’s more likely that friends come to my house rather than me leaving the house. Therefore, we have set goals to go outside more by going on weekly walks around the park or going over to a family member’s house to go swimming and hang out outside without electronics glued to our hands. It helps that we have made it a habit to go camping, though, and that we spend most of the time camping outside playing games or going fishing. We walk a lot more when camping.
In terms of goal setting, I aim to limit how long I’m on my phone or electronics per day. Instead of spending more than eight hours on my phone, I will spend the day doing things that don’t require electricity. For example, I’ll spend more time reading paperback books instead of on my iPad. It helps that my favorite books are on paperback and I already own them so this will be no problem. However, I will also aim to walk the park once a week and eventually up this to twice a week and so forth. It’ll be easy to measure how much I’m using my electronics as my phone has a place in settings that monitors this. I also think this goal is attainable if I keep up my motivation to change this behavior. So, I will walk the park every week and not be on my phone for more than four hours. If I do this, I will reward myself with a new book from my favorite author. If I fail to do this, I will have my parents deduct $5 from my account each week that I don’t unplug my devices.
There was another habit that came to my attention while monitoring my behavior and its buying secondhand, something I’ve recently started doing without realizing it was environmentally friendly. Working at a thrift store helps contribute to this behavior as I shop while working. Buying secondhand, not just with clothing, reduces waste and our carbon footprint. When someone buys secondhand items, it reduces the need to create something new and, therefore, reduces the resources that would be needed to manufacture more. Certain fibers used to create new clothing or other items require a lot of resources like energy and oil. According to Planet Aid, some fabrics use up, “millions of gallons of water and tons of harmful pesticides are needed to grow the crops, while the manufacture of clothing from these fibers also has numerous hazardous impacts.” That’s millions of resources being wasted when people throw away expensive clothing after only owning them for a couple of months, something I was guilty of doing before officially switching to donating my clothing to thrift stores. Planet Aid is actually a company that provides secondhand clothing as well. On their site, they explain that the proceeds from the clothing they sell “go towards funding sustainable development projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America” and that this benefits both “the United States and abroad.”
Secondhand clothing is more than just beneficial to the environment. They help those in the area get quality clothing at cheaper prices. Buying secondhand clothing is becoming more and more popular with retail prices increasing steadily and also provides economic and social benefits to the world. For example, my aunt’s thrift store sells brand name clothing at $4.00 while, if you go to the mall, the same shirt will be at $20 or $40. That’s spending at least 20% more at malls versus going to thrift stores.
Modifying one’s behavior isn’t easy, at least not too many. However, it’s become clear that spotting the behavior and setting goals with reinforcements and punishments aids the most in changing a negative behavior into a pro-environmental one. Furthermore, when it comes to modifying behavior, the person who wants to change their habits knows what to look out for that will become an obstacle and adjust their goals to be attainable. In the end, it’s all about the willpower. With renewed motivation, I will set goals, continue to monitor my behavior, predict obstacles, and keep reinforcing each behavior before it becomes a natural habit.
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