As we gather around the Thanksgiving table, it's hard not to think about food. What we don't pay much attention to are the scraps. We can do a better job at putting our food, including scraps, to good use.

As a nation, we throw away close to half the food we buy. Last year, some 33 million tons of food, with a value of about $165 billion, were thrown into landfills.

We simply cannot afford to waste this much food.

We should remember that more than 50 million Americans go hungry each day. Food can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries and shelters.

In California, more than 30 organizations supply donated food directly to communities.

The Alameda County Food Bank serves about 49,000 people a week. Let's step up efforts to donate during the holiday season.

Unfortunately, much of the food that goes to waste cannot be readily donated to those in need.

That's why it makes sense for us to think about food waste at the beginning of the cycle -- production and purchasing.

Growing and distributing food requires enormous resources, from the electricity used to can and freeze food to the trucks that stock grocery stores.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15.7 percent of national energy consumption goes toward producing and distributing food.


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Through its Sustainable Materials Management program, EPA helps businesses, nonprofits and other groups track the amount of waste they generate, in part so they can get a better handle on the right amount food to produce, order and buy.

We also need to stop sending food to the landfill. When we do, it rots and creates methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Food in landfills contributes one-fifth of our nation's methane emissions. Luckily there is a solution: composting.

Curbside composting is offered in Oakland, Berkeley and many other Bay Area cities and universities, such as UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Stanford.

A study at Keene State College in New Hampshire found on average each student wasted one pound of food per day.

By composting, residents and businesses help local farms improve soil health and structure, increase drought resistance, and reduce and even eliminate the need for supplemental water, fertilizers and pesticides.

If we donate food that we don't need, we can go a long way to solving our nation's hunger challenges and, by composting food, we can make a dent in reducing greenhouse gases.

Not a bad start for Thanksgiving!

If you are interested in learning how to reduce your food waste, the Environmental Protection Agency's Food Recovery Challenge can help: http://epa.gov/smm.

Jared Blumenfeld is regional administrator for the Environ-mental Protection Agency, Region 9.