With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we should talk about wasted food in America. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us that more food is sent to landfills and incinerators than any other single material in the United States. The EPA estimates that 35.04 metric tons of prepared food or consumer bought food is wasted each year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that throughout the food chain between 30%-40% percent of the total food supply or about 133 billion pounds of food worth almost $162 billion is wasted from farm to consumer.
The total amount of waste in the United States is shocking. We have to do something about this. This wasted food is particularly disturbing when you consider that in 2015, 13% of households (15.8 million) were food insecure. That means that in the United States 42.2 million Americans lived in “food insecure” households. The U. S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as not having consistent access to adequate food throughout the year. This is usually caused by poverty. People who are food insecure are simply hungry, or at risk of hunger. In the United States people go hungry every day. There are hungry people in every state and community in America, our community is no exception.
Keeping food in our communities and out of landfills helps communities reduce hunger and reducing food waste also potentially reduces methane emissions from our landfills. Food waste quickly generates methane in landfills, and 20% of total U.S. methane emissions come from landfills. In addition, the land, water, labor, energy used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of the discarded food are wasted as we throw away the imperfect and the excess.
In 2013 the USDA and EPA
- Reduce food waste by improving product development, storage, shopping/ordering, marketing, labeling, and cooking methods.
- Recover food waste by connecting potential food donors to food banks and pantries.
- Recycle food waste to feed animals or to create compost, bioenergy and natural fertilizers.
Then in 2015 USDA and EPA announced the first U.S. food loss and waste reduction goal Challenge. Last week the USDA and EPA announced the inaugural group of the U.S. “Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions,” businesses and organizations who have taken up the challenge and pledged to reduce food loss and waste in their operations 50% by 2030. The “Champions” announced last week were: Ahold USA, Blue Apron, Bon Appétit Management Company, Campbell Soup Company, Conagra Brands, Delhaize America, General Mills, Kellogg Company, PepsiCo, Sodexo, Unilever, Walmart, Wegman’s Food Markets, Weis Markets and YUM! Brands.
By joining the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, organizations and businesses demonstrate their commitment to reducing food waste, helping to feed the hungry in their communities, and reducing the environmental impact of wasted food. The Challenge Partners’ inventory of activities will help disseminate information about the best practices to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste and stimulate the development of more of these practices that can be applied to businesses in the future.
It is important to remember that cutting food waste will require a sustained commitment from everyone. The USDA estimates that about 90 billion pounds of food waste comes from consumers, and costs about $370 per person per year. USDA’s “Let’s Talk Trash” focuses on consumer education, highlighting key data and action steps consumers can take to reduce food waste. Take a look at this link to see the suggestions. This is much harder because it involves millions of households changing their behavior, better managing their food shopping, storage an meal planning and using and eating leftovers. Millions of our households need to continually practice frugality in our food use. This in a nation that in 2014 produced about 258 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste with only slightly over one third of trash was recycled and composted. We have been promoting recycling since 1965 with the introduction of the recycling symbol yet we still have a long way to go.