The Issue at Hand
Roughly 30-40% of the food in the U.S. is wasted, and the majority of this wasted food occurs at the consumer level. Wasted food costs an average family of 4 over $1500 a year, and overall, it costs farmers, businesses, and consumers about $218 billion. Wasting food also wastes resources and contributes to climate change. In the US, wasted food consumes 21% of fresh water and 19% of fertilizers. If the US grew all of its wasted food in one area, it would be equivalent to ¾ of California.
These numbers are pretty shocking, and they are even more surprising when you take into account the fact that more than 35 million Americans are food insecure. Wasted food is a big problem that affects both the planet and people. Curbing our food waste is one of the best things we can do to combat hunger and climate change.
As consumers, we have a large role to play in reducing wasted food. When we think about reducing wasted food, consider following the advice of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy. This hierarchy was designed for food service businesses like restaurants and supermarkets, but the ideas still apply to consumers. At the top of the pyramid, we have the most effective wasted food reduction measure, source reduction. Source reduction means reducing the amount of surplus food generated in the first place. Source reduction solutions include things like planning out your meals and making a grocery list, then sticking to this list to prevent overbuying food.
Other solutions include: freezing foods so they last longer, understanding date labels to prevent throwing away foods that are not expired, and properly storing foods so they last longer and stay fresher.
The next level down on the pyramid is to feed hungry people. If you have leftover or excess food, it is best to find a way to donate still edible food to others who need it. Or if people cannot benefit from eating this leftover food, the next best thing is to use food scraps to feed animals or for industrial uses. If these options aren’t available to you, compost your leftover food and food scraps. Composting creates a nutrient rich soil by allowing the food to return its components to the soil, rather than the air in the form of methane (a greenhouse gas more than 25 times as potent as CO2). Food and food scraps should only be discarded if all of these options have been explored.
Learn more about wasted food and solutions to the issue in our webinar below!
Other Great Resources:
- ReFED is a non-profit that is working towards ending food loss and food waste in the U.S. Their website is very user-friendly, and is highly worth looking into!
- The Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) Save the Food has several resources and tips on how to reduce wasted food – including proper food storage for a variety of food items.
- The NRDC: Wasted report has some great statistics and goes in-depth on a lot of areas related to wasted food.
- The USDA is another good resource to look at when it comes to food loss and waste. They also talk about food insecurity and why this is such a large issue as well.
- The EPA’s page on Sustainable Management of Food offers another look into the issue of food waste.
- Our Wasted Food Solutions page is great for businesses, institutions, and municipalities to learn about how to divert and reduce wasted foods.