Food Waste

Why?

The alarmingly high amount of food wasted in the U.S. alone each year is close to 40%. That means that 40% of all of the food grown/made, shipped, purchased, and prepared gets tossed to a landfill. This has enormous consequences on: the workers involved in each stage of this process, the environment as the water and energy needed to carry out this process is wasted, and the  gaping disparity that exists as millions of people still go hungry every day. Over fifty two million tons of food end up in landfills each year in the U.S. alone while 50 million Americans remain food insecure, meaning they do not have a constant supply of food available to them. Thus, the environmental, social and economic consequences of this dilemma are overwhelming.

To give you a better picture approximately:

  • 30-40% of all food produce in the US ends up in the dump
    • 20% of waste in the dump is food
    • 20% of methane gas comes from organics in landfills
    • Methane is 20-30x a more potent greenhouse than carbon dioxide
  • 13% of DC families are experiencing food insecurity
  • Redistributing only 30% of food waste could eliminate food insecurity in the US
  • 133 billion lbs wasted per year
  • $161 Billion annual cost of uneaten food
  • Family of 4 spends $1500 a year on food they don’t eat
  • Biggest producers of waste
    • (not including waste on the farm and distribution which can be up to another 30% of food wasted)
      • 56% residential
      • 36% commercial
      • 8% institutional

Date Labels

“Best By” “Sell By”  “Used By” “Best if Used By”

In 1970s there was a movement for one federal safety food date labeling standard. This movement failed to enact any federal legislation. Instead the date label regulations fell back to the states who have many different standards but ultimately all of them gave the manufacturers the ability to select which date label to use with no explanation and
decide how to calculate the date.  There was a shift where manufacturers moved away from standards of safety and moved towards standards to protect “consumer experience, peak freshness, and brand integrity.  The result is now we have an arbitrary date labeling system not based on science or health, which no one understands.

Over half of the states in the US have state regulations that prevent stores from selling or donating food past these arbitrary dates, regardless if most food is still good for weeks after.  This produces an enormous amount of waste from retailers throwing away still good food to consumers throwing away food at home that is still good to buy more.

Read more about Date Labels at The Harvard Food Law Policy Clinic and the National Resources Defense Council’s Comprehensive Report on Food Expiration Dates: The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America

Food Recovery Goals

In September of 2015, the U.S.released their food loss and waste reduction goal, which has the aim to reduce food loss and waste by one-half by the year 2030. This was a joint effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The EPA’s Administrator Gina McCarthy stated: “Let’s feed people, not landfills. By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources, and protect our planet for future generations”.

This fits within target 12.3 of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. They hope to achieve this ambitious target by establishing lists of actions for businesses, stakeholders, government and individuals as well as inspiring new innovations to reduce this waste. Read more here.

Many of these solutions target each stage of the waste hierarchy, prioritizing prevention first, then recovery (redistribution of food), and recycling last (repurpose waste as energy, agriculture products, etc.)

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Learn More

Food Waste Reduction Campaigns

11 practical ways you can reduce food waste and save money

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