Despite Rising Prices, Americans Trash 40 Percent of Food Supply
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.”
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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