We Waste a Lot of Food!

by | Oct 23, 2017


We waste lots of food.  Some key facts:

  • In the U.S. about 1/2 of all produce is wasted.
  • The total value of wasted food in the U.S. is estimated at $165 billion per year and 273 lbs per person.
  • In terms of calories, it has been estimated that food waste rings in at about 1,400 calories per capita per day. That amounts to 150 Trillion calories a year for the U.S. as a whole.  Producing these wasted calories accounts for more than 1/4 of America’s annual consumption of freshwater and consumes 300 million barrels of oil each year.
  • Americans today waste 50 percent more food than they did in the 1970s
  • About 23 percent of U.S. methane emissions comes from landfill food and globally food waste accounts for about 8% of climate pollution (more than the countries of India or Russia).
  • Discarded food is the biggest single component of landfill and incinerators, according to the EPA.

Feeding the world’s population in the face of climate change and population growth will be a challenge. Food experts say there is growing awareness that governments cannot effectively fight hunger, or climate change, without reducing food waste.

What are the reasons for so much food waste in America? Some reasons:

  1. A major reason is our unrealistic expectations regarding the appearance of our produce. As consumers we expect our produce to look perfect. Additionally, we often throw out food when it’s past the “use by” or “best by” date. But, these dates aren’t related to food safety; instead, they are the manufacturer’s best guess about when the peak quality of taste and freshness will start to decline.
  2. As a result, roughly 7 percent of the produce that’s grown in the United States simply gets stranded on fields each year. After crops have been gathered from the fields, farmers tend to cull produce to make sure it meets minimum standards for size, color, and weight.  
  3. Grocery stores are another huge source of rubbished food — with the USDA estimating that supermarkets toss out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables each year.
  4. In restaurants, a good chunk of food is lost in the kitchen.
  5. On average, diners leave about 17 percent of their food uneaten. Portion sizes are a big reason for this, as portions in restaurants  have ballooned in the past 30 years.
  6. Restaurants also try to keep more food than they need on hand to make sure that everything on the menu is available. 
  7. The biggest culprits are households. American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy.

What are some solutions?

  • Some supermarket chains and industry groups in the U.S. are pioneering ugly produce sections and actively campaigning to reduce such losses.
  • Emerging technology that extends the life of fruits and vegetables will help reduce food waste.
  • In the England they have reduced food waste by 18% over the past five years by a combination of public awareness campaigns and resolutions by retailers.
  • France has reduced food waste by banning retailers from throwing away food.  They must now compost or donate it.
  • Germany is reforming expiration dates on food which are often arbitrary and misunderstood by consumers.


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