Quantcast

Despite Rising Prices, Americans Trash 40 Percent of Food Supply

Natural Resources Defense Council

Americans are throwing away 40 percent of food in the U.S., the equivalent of $165 billion in uneaten food each year, according to a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In a time of drought and skyrocketing food prices, NRDC outlines opportunities to reduce wasted food and money on the farm, in the grocery store and at home.

 

 

“As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path–that’s money and precious resources down the drain,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC project scientist with the food and agriculture program. “With the price of food continuing to grow, and drought jeopardizing farmers nationwide, now is the time to embrace all the tremendous untapped opportunities to get more out of our food system. We can do better.”

NRDC’s issue brief–Wasted: How America Is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill–analyzes the latest case studies and government data on the causes and extent of food losses at every level of the U.S. food supply chain. It also provides examples and recommendations for reducing this waste. Key findings include:

  • Americans trash 40 percent of our food supply every year, valued at about $165 billion;
  • The average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food;
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills;
  • Just a 15 percent reduction in losses in the U.S. food supply would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans annually;
  • There has been a 50 percent jump in U.S. food waste since the 1970s.

The causes of losses in our food system are complex, but there are notable problem areas. At the retail level, grocery stores and other sellers are losing as much as $15 billion annually in unsold fruits and vegetables alone, with about half of the nationwide supply going uneaten. In fact, fresh produce is lost more than any other food product—including seafood, meat, grains and dairy—at nearly every stage in the supply chain. Some of this is avoidable. For instance, retailers can stop the practice of unnecessary abundance in their produce displays, which inherently leads to food spoilage.

But consumers are also a major contributor to the problem, with the majority of food losses occurring in restaurants and household kitchens. A significant reason for this is large portions, as well as uneaten leftovers. Today, portion sizes are two to eight times larger than the government’s standard serving sizes.

Wasted food also translates into wasted natural resources, because of the energy, water and farmland necessary to grow, transport and store food.  About half of all land in the U.S. goes to agriculture; some 25 percent of all the freshwater consumed in this country, along with four percent of the oil, goes into producing food that is never eaten. Moreover, uneaten food accounts for 23 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S.—a potent climate change pollutant.

Increasing the efficiency of our food system is a triple-bottom-line solution that requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments and consumers. Specifically:

  • The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study of losses in our food system and set national goals for waste reduction. This may require steps such as clarifying date labels on food, encouraging food recovery and improving public awareness about ways to waste less. State and local governments can also lead by setting similar targets.
  • Businesses should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money. The Stop and Shop grocery chain is already doing this successfully, saving an estimated $100 million annually after an analysis of freshness, loss and customer satisfaction in their perishables department. Others should follow suit.
  • Consumers can waste less food by shopping wisely, knowing when food goes bad, buying produce that is perfectly edible even if it’s less cosmetically attractive, cooking only the amount of food they need, and eating their leftovers.

Europe is leading the way in reducing food waste. In January 2012, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to reduce food waste 50 percent by 2020, and designated 2014 as the “European year against food waste.” In the U.K., an extensive five-year public awareness campaign called “Love Food Hate Waste” has contributed to an 18 percent reduction in avoidable food waste. And 53 of the leading U.K. food retailers and brands have adopted waste reduction resolutions.

“No matter how sustainably our food is farmed, if it’s not being eaten, it is not a good use of resources,” said Gunders. “Fortunately, there are ways to tackle the food waste problem, and everyone can play a role.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sled dog teams pull researchers from the Danish Meteorological Institute through meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet in early June, 2019. Danish Meteorological Institute / Steffen M. Olsen

By Jon Queally

In yet the latest shocking image depicting just how fast the world's natural systems are changing due to the global climate emergency, a photograph showing a vast expanse of melted Arctic ice in Greenland — one in which a pair of sled dog teams appear to be walking on water — has gone viral.

Read More Show Less
CAFOs often store animal waste in massive, open-air lagoons, like this one at Vanguard Farms in Chocowinity, North Carolina. Bacteria feeding on the animal waste turns the mixture a bright pink. picstever / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Tia Schwab

It has been almost a year since Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas, dumping a record 30 inches of rainfall in some parts of the states. At least 52 people died, and property and economic losses reached $24 billion, with nearly $17 billion in North Carolina alone. Flood waters also killed an estimated 3.5 million chickens and 5,500 hogs.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Members of the NY Renews coalition gathered before New York lawmakers reached a deal on the Climate and Communities Protection Act. NYRenews / Twitter

By Julia Conley

Grassroots climate campaigners in New York applauded on Monday after state lawmakers reached a deal on sweeping climate legislation, paving the way for the passage of what could be some of the country's most ambitious environmental reforms.

Read More Show Less
In this picture taken on June 4, an Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, on the eve of World Environment Day. Sam Panthaky / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Nearly 50 people died on Saturday in one Indian state as record-breaking heatwaves across the country have caused an increasingly desperate situation.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a poster in New York City during the second annual nationwide March For Science on April 14, 2018. Kena Betancur / Getty Images

By Will J. Grant

In an ideal world, people would look at issues with a clear focus only on the facts. But in the real world, we know that doesn't happen often.

People often look at issues through the prism of their own particular political identity — and have probably always done so.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

In a blow to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court ruled Monday to uphold a Virginia ban on mining uranium, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Ragú Old World Style Traditional is one of three flavors named in a voluntary recall. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Spaghetti with plastic sauce? That's what you might be eating if you pour one of three flavors of Ragú sauce over your pasta.

Mizkan America, the food company that owns Ragú, announced Saturday that it was voluntarily recalling some Chunky Tomato Garlic & Onion, Old World Style Traditional and Old World Style Meat sauces because they might be contaminated with plastic fragments, The Today Show reported.

Read More Show Less
A butterfly in the National Butterfly Center, a private sanctuary for butterflies in southern Texas, on Jan. 22. Maren Hennemuth / picture alliance / Getty Images

While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.

Read More Show Less