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  • Writer's pictureMeg

The Environmental Impact: Animal and Food Waste

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Every time we consume meat, eggs or dairy foods, we contribute to ecological devastation and the wasteful misuse of resources on a global scale – Ingrid Newkirk

Animal Waste

Something even the most "conscientious omnivore" has very little awareness of is the waste products generated by the "products" they consume… That is, their poo. The facts stated below are taken directly from Cowspiracy (see resources for original sources):

  • Every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US. This doesn’t include the animals raised outside of USDA jurisdiction or in backyards, or the billions of fish raised in aquaculture settings in the US.

  • In the U.S. livestock produce 52,617kg of waste per second

  • Dairy Cows: 54kg of waste per day x 9 million cows

  • Cattle: 28kg of waste per day, x 90 million cattle

  • Pigs: 6kg of waste per day, x 67 million pigs

  • Sheep/Goats: 2kg of waste per day, x 9 million sheep/goats

  • Poultry: 400g of waste per day, x 9 billion birds

There are several concerns with the waste animal agriculture creates:

  • Land and water pollution: Animal waste pollutants, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, antibiotics, pesticides, and diseases, leach into the groundwater and land. Some companies take a small portion of animal waste to burn as biofuels but most of this waste remains untreated and unsanitary. The result is massive human-made “lagoons”, as pictured above, which are visible from space. These waste lagoons contain elevated levels of ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorous, as well as pathogens including Salmonella and E. coli. The antibiotics in lagoons, expelled in the animals’ waste, provide a breeding ground for antibiotic resistant bacteria.

  • Air pollution: Farm workers and nearby residents have reported asthma, headaches, eye irritation, and nausea as a result of the emissions from the large farms. The health and environmental concerns associated with this drive down property values in surrounding areas.

  • Ocean dead zones: As the name suggests, ocean dead zones are barren, lifeless zones of the ocean without enough oxygen to support life. There are currently 550 ocean dead zones around the world caused by nutrient runoff from land, sewage, agriculture fertiliser and pesticides, manure, and other human activities. These nutrients stimulate an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes, and consumes the oxygen needed by all sea creatures.

I’ll leave that as food for thought.

Food Waste

Food waste is something I’m becoming very passionate about, especially after seeing this infographic earlier this year:


I’ve been fortunate enough to recently gain employment in a job I love. A hidden perk of the job is that the organisation receives donations from Second Bite, a national not-for-profit organisation that rescues surplus fresh food and redistributes it, free of charge, to community organisations. I know, amazing, right?!

And I recently learnt of freeganism:

“An anti-consumerist ideology in which a “freegan” employs a range of alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. The word “freegan” is a coinage derived from “free” and “vegan”.

That is the Wikipedia definition, but you may now it as dumpstering, or op-shopping, but its pretty radical in this day and age. I’ve adopted freeganism, without having to dive into a bin. I come home every Tuesday with two green-bags of A-grade Second Bite produce of which I cook, preserve, freeze, dry or juice. It’s been a joy to learn age old techniques of food preservation and I love the challenge large amounts of produce provides (read: juicing around 35 mandarins last week). Not to mention, it saves me a fortune! I promise I will post some of these projects soon!

If freeganism doesn’t float you boat, the simplest way to waste less food is only cook what you need for a feed, get creative with leftovers and don’t get take away when you already have food at home. In my last workplace I set up a composting initiative and I’m going to do the same in my current workplace. And this weekend I’m going to buy a worm farm to accompany my over-worked compost bin. If food is wasted, the least respect we show that food is to use it to grow more food.

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

References and Resources


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