By Kate Ryan
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to a smug vegetarian, then you likely got the lowdown on the wide-ranging benefits of a veggie-based diet. As it turns out, they’re even more right than meat lovers would like to believe. According to the Department of Agriculture, about 133 billion pounds of food were lost at the consumer level in 2010. That’s “31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food available for human consumption in the United States in 2010,” say the writers of the report.
But not all food losses are created equal. An estimated 15.4 billion pounds of meat, poultry, and fish were wasted at retail and consumer levels in 2010, but that’s merely scratching the surface of a larger problem. Factoring in the extra resources it takes to raise animals for consumption—from land and fuel to water and feed—throwing away that half-eaten burger does more damage to the environment than you’d think.
In a 2015 study published by Cambridge University Press, researchers catalogued the estimated greenhouse gas emissions of various food products wasted at the University of Missouri dining halls. While “meat and protein” ranked fourth as far as the total amount of food wasted by weight, meat waste contributed far more greenhouse gas emissions than any other food category. As one of the study’s writers, Ronald McGarvey, told The Huffington Post,
“When you throw away that pound of beef, you’re essentially throwing away all of the embodied resources that were needed to generate that meat.”
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization backs up this statement, reporting that wasted meat alone contributes 21 percent of the global carbon footprint caused by food waste as a whole. To put it in more relatable terms, when you throw away one beef burger, you’re wasting the energy equivalent to driving a small car 20 miles. Or think of it this way: Wasting one pound of beef is equivalent to wasting 16 pounds of vegetation and 2,500 gallons of water. The dumfounding facts go on and on.
Even if you can’t cut meat out of your diet completely, consider cutting back on the amount of meat you buy or limiting meat-centered meals to a few times a week. Any steps you take to reduce your consumption of meat and, in turn, the amount of meat you waste, will have a measurable impact on the environment. So the next time you opt for mac and cheese instead of a burger, you can feel good knowing you’ve helped the planet in the process.
-Originally appeared at GOOD.is