By Mike Pomranz
Updated November 16, 2015
Building Materials from Food Waste

Food waste is one of 2015’s hottest topics, and after over ten months of listening to statistics like “Americans throw out $640 worth of food a year,” you’re probably feeling pretty guilty. But good news: There’s still plenty more guilt to be felt – because when you waste food, you also waste the resources requited to make that food, like water.

Water waste is an especially important topic as places like California face major droughts, so a number of organizations have been working to expose how food waste relates to water waste. “It’s really important to understand where and how things are grown,” Ruth Mathews, executive director of the Water Footprint Network, told Smithsonian for a recent piece on the subject.

A food’s “water footprint” – the amount of water directly and indirectly that goes into producing it – can be huge. For example, it takes 100 gallons of water to produce just one pound of apples, meaning tossing out even one apple is like throwing 25 or more gallons of water away with it. Other foods are more complex in how they use water. Cows, for instance, need both their own water and water to grow their feed. All told, that means every pound of beef take 1,800 gallons of water to produce it. Chickens require water in similar ways, which translates into every rotten egg wasting about 50 gallons of water.

The takeaway: Food waste goes beyond what is on your plate or in your fridge. There’s an entire chain of waste that leads up to your garbage can. So next time, instead of throwing away that extra produce, you may as well just leave your faucet running instead. At least then you’re cutting out the middleman.