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Book Lays Bare The West's Wasteful Food Ways

San Francisco's new law mandating that everyone recycle food waste puts the city on the cutting edge of composting.

But in Asia, the practice is commonplace in some countries.

They're a rare bright spot in author Tristram Stuart's new book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.

"In Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, the government in a matter of years has put a lot of energy behind recycling food waste as livestock feed," Stuart tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "It's environmentally friendly, it provides cheap livestock feed for the farmers in those parts of the world, and it avoids sending the food waste to landfill."

Stuart makes the case that much of the developed world is thoughtless when it comes to the production and purchase of food. From fields of imperfect produce to the lettuce you left in the fridge a little too long, vast quantities of food are tossed daily.

There is a more responsible approach, Stuart points out.

"In the United States, under 3 percent of municipal food waste — so that's the food scraps that goes into people's garbage cans — actually gets recycled," he says. "If you go to a place like South Korea, the exact reverse is the case. It's about 3 percent that doesn't get recycled. The rest is recycled through composting and — very largely and very sensibly — through feeding that food waste to livestock."

Stuart says the U.S. has the resources to recycle its food waste as effectively as South Korea does.

"We have the solutions, we know how to do it," he says. "We just need to do it more effectively and across the board."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.