Before, we’ll travel. After, we’ll dump our food. Thanksgiving - the biggest day of waste.
The Holidays are upon us in the United States and consumption of energy, food and oil will peak leading up to the days of Thanksgiving. Beforehand, enormous amounts of fuel will be consumed as people travel by car, train, and airplane to see loved ones. Afterwards, Americans will spend the same amount of fuel to get back and their food wastes will lay mountains in landfills. Thanksgiving is an expensive holiday, on pocketbooks and the environment. Before and after: Thanksgiving's examined effect on climate change.
Transportation's heavy toll on the planet peaks during the Thanksgiving weekend. 32 million Americans will travel +50 miles to get to their destinations, 2.3 million will fly, and others will bus or take the train (AAA, 2009). Unfortunately the best mode of transportation is the least used, as examined through the work of Mikhail Chester and Arpad Hovath (UC Berkeley), as reported by Jacob Leibenluft of the Lantern (Nov. 2008). Their findings reveal train transportation as the best vehicle to ride: "Riding in the average train is a significantly greener choice than the average car or plane" and trains (averaging 155 passengers) produce less than half the amount of GhG's per mile compared with a sedan with the average 1.58 passengers (Slate, 2008). Trains are only better for the environment if they are stocked with passengers, an unlikely situation most days of the year. The researchers find that airplanes emit more carbon than trains or buses per passenger mile. When calculating the life-cycle of transportation methods, the amounts of concrete emissions play a significant role, too. As Leibenluft puts it: "It's not just the road you take, but what it's made out of," that counts.
The biggest American feast day is also the biggest American waste day. Jonathan Bloom, from Culinate blog, recently wrote about the problems of food waste: "More than 40 percent of all food produced in America is not eaten, according to research by former University of Arizona anthropologist Timothy Jones. That amounts to more than 29 million tons of food waste each year, or enough to fill the Rose Bowl every three days." The US wastes 25% of food prepared, the EPA reports (2009). Waste is revealed in the monumental levels of energy used to plant, fertilize, harvest, package, transport, and eventually dump food into landfills. These energy expenditures represent emissions, which are then compounded with the methane produced when these foodstuffs rot.
Food and transportation's biggest day is approaching. Trains are the greenest vehicles of travel, however the infrastructure of many states is inadequate. The interstate's miles of traffic will be the choice for many. Food waste is equally inevitable. Thanksgiving doesn't have to be so threatening to climate change. Planning is needed to ensure that cities provide the needed institutions to protect our planet and a cherished tradition.