Climate Change,  Food Waste

The Foodprint: Eyes on Methane

By The Editors

We all know something about the carbon footprint, a little less about the plastic footprint, and — may be we haven’t heard (yet) about the foodprint.

What is the foodprint?  It’s all related to methane.


Methane is a colorless, odorless gas with a wide distribution in nature. It is the principal component of natural gas. National Geographic calls it the “Good Gas, Bad Gas” and it goes on to say: “Burn natural gas and it warms your house. But let it leak, from fracked wells or the melting Arctic, and it warms the whole planet.”  To this, we can add:that, globally, over 60% of total methane emissions come from human activities. Methane is emitted from industry, agriculture, and waste management activities,

Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental Protection Agency

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas — its presence in the atmosphere affects the Earth’s temperature and climate system. Although carbon dioxide is the major component of greenhouse gases, the global warming potential of methane is 21 times higher than that of carbon dioxide (21 times is an estimate – if you look around, you can find different sources reporting different numbers, 20 or 23 instead of 21, for example).

Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental Protection Agency

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), domestic livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels produce large amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive process. In addition, methane is produced when animals’ manure is stored or managed in lagoons or holding tanks.  Because humans raise these animals for food, the emissions are considered human-related. Globally, the agriculture sector is the primary source of methane emissions.


There is something more to think about.  What happens to the food we throw away?  It gets disposed in landfills, where it is decomposed by bacteria under anaerobic conditions (i.e., in the absence of oxygen) and becomes a significant source of methane.

In the US, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste.

Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental Protection Agency

According to the EPA, landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the United States — accounting for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions.  In 2010 alone, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated.  Of these 34 million tons, only three percent was diverted for composting.

How can we decrease the foodprint?  Composting, composting, composting — However, composting works well for food waste that has already been generated.  What about changing our mindset and finding ways to reduce the amount of food we waste on a daily basis?



  • ErinnGoBragh

    My grandparents compost and they showed me how when I was little. They keep a empty milk carton with the top cut off next to the kitchen sink and dump leftover food in it when washing the dishes. Then they empty the milk carton in the compost pile outside at the end of each night. They have a huge garden in their backyard and they grow all their own vegetables so they use the compost as fertilizer. I would compost but it’s difficult because I live in the city.

  • nicole_v23

    I had no idea that the global warming potential of methane was 21X greater than that of carbon dioxide. It’s also interesting to learn that a lot of the methane released into the environment is from natural digestive processes although globally agriculture is the primary source of methane. The author mentioned composting as a method of reducing our foodprint. My parents have a vegetable garden and have been composting for years. I believe its an easily adaptable process as long as individuals are properly educated about the process.

  • FurElise

    Before reading this post, I was completely unaware of the problems with methane production from livestock. I have been aware that methane is a colorless and odorless greenhouse gas, making it harmful to the ozone layer which is affecting global warming. The post did mention composting as a method of decreasing the amount of methane gas production. The problem is, however, that this is a method not widely used or understood. I have heard of composting, but it is not something that is commonly practiced where I am from. I also am completely unaware of how to compost and it is not something that I would have ever thought of to prevent methane production and reduce my foodprint. Education about the process of composting and its advantages should be more prevalent throughout the country and world.

    • Haley M

      I was also clueless about the methane production for livestock but that is interesting and important to know. Composting is never really talked about where I am from either. Including information sessions about this could help and increase awareness. Another point I agree mentioned in the original posting is simply decreasing the amount of food we waste daily. If we cooked proper proportions and did not throw out as much food as we consumed, that could be a start to solving the foodprint issue.

  • sam g

    It’s unbelievable that most people are not aware of the pollution problem created by livestock. When I mention it, many times I get a skeptical look. Methane production affects climate change, and the majority of people displaced by climate changes are those that do not live in proximity of livestock. What we do on one side of the world affects the other side.

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