The Problem of Food Waste in America

Estimates on the amount of food waste in America range from 30% – 40%. In this post you’ll learn about food waste in the United States, where and why it’s happening, and most importantly, what you can do to stop it.

Why We Have a Problem with Food Waste, and What You Can Do About It

Picture of Produce in a Dumpster - "Food Waste in America"

In 2012 an alarming report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that as much as 40% of the food that we are growing, raising, and cooking gets thrown away. Join us as we dive into the subject of food waste in America. You’ll learn how much food is going to waste, for what reasons, why it’s even worse than it seems, who’s talking about it, and how to do something about it!

How Much Food is Wasted?

Figuring out how much food ends up in the trash is tricky, and the data that we have on national food waste is, at best, an estimate. However, several different studies have put food waste between 30-40%, so it’s safe to say that something around 1/3 to 2/5 of our national food supply is never eaten. That number is even higher for highly perishable food groups like fruits and vegetables.  

Where Does It Happen?

It’s tempting to point fingers at restaurants or a wasteful next-door neighbor, and though consumer losses do account for a big portion of food wasted, the reality is that food waste occurs at every point along the food production chain. A lot of food is lost in distribution (check out our blog post about our visit to LA’s Wholesale Market) and in grocery stores. According to the NRDC, 20% of all fruits and vegetables grown never even leave the farm!

Why?

Why are Americans throwing away 6 billion pounds of food every month? Three of the biggest reasons are 1) cosmetic standards that demand that fruits and vegetables are free of blemishes, spots or wrinkles; 2) overstocking and over-purchasing, and 3) confusion about sell-by and expiration dates. Whether it’s ugly, extra, or not quite fresh, the food that we are throwing away is, for the most part, perfectly edible and tasty.

Squash in Dumpster

The Problem With Food Waste

The tragedy is that the United States is losing around 40% of its food supply at time when hunger and food insecurity are growing. There are nearly 50 million people in the United States living in households without suitable access to healthy food, and it’s not because of food shortages or a lack of production. As our Founder and Executive Director puts it, “Hunger is a distribution problem, not a supply problem.” Food waste also constitutes a waste of resources on a massive national scale. We spend $165 billion and use 25% of our freshwater just to produce the food that gets thrown away. Think about that next the time you’re talking about solutions to California’s current drought.

Food Waste In The Media

Food waste has been getting increasing attention in the past couple of years (check out the trends in online searches and journal articles). John Oliver brought the issue to national attention with an 18 minute segment that was picked up by several other major media networks, and a 2014 documentary on the subject is still being shown around the country. The U.S. Government has also given more attention and resources to wasted food since it launched a national Food Waste Challenge in 2013. In September of 2014, the USDA and EPA released the United States’ first ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50% reduction in wasted food by 2030.

Learn More About Food Waste

3 Things You Can Do to Reduce Food Waste:

1) Learn how to shop, store, and cook food effectively.

2) Support legislation to reduce Food Waste. See how your representatives score here.

3) Donate your surplus food to local food banks and pantries! (Food donations made in “good faith” are protected against liability)

Peppers in Dumpster

 

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20 thoughts on “The Problem of Food Waste in America”

  1. jacinda says:

    i like this website and hoe you guys are trying to help prevent food waste, i too am trying not too waste food

  2. Alejandra Castorena says:

    This is so true and i want to make a stand.

  3. Anna Kent says:

    How much food is wasted in American supermarkets each year?

  4. joe says:

    According to the NRDC report “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40
    Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill”, 10% of food reaching supermarkets in America gets thrown away – over 40 billion pounds per year!

  5. andrew says:

    My mom throw away food good food because she just went shopping or one potato is soggy she throw away the whole bag

  6. katelin says:

    what do you do if i donate?

  7. joe says:

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks so much for your interest in supporting Food Forward! Were you inquiring about making a donation of produce or a financial donation?

    You can learn more about donating fruit from trees at https://foodforward.org/got-produce/got-fruit-trees/, or other types of food donations at https://foodforward.org/got-produce/other-produce-donations/. If you’re interested in making a financial donation, you can find more information at https://foodforward.org/donate/.

    Thanks again for your support,
    Joe & the Food Forward Team

  8. Laquisha Arthur says:

    I think food waste is a bad thing because some people don’t have food and a way to reduce food waste is to get some food out your refrigerater that you don’t like and give it to the homeless/ lessfortunate .l

  9. Nelia says:

    I told my grhmanotder how you helped. She said, “bake them a cake!”

  10. Derrian Dawson says:

    im in 6th grade and I think food waste is important to the world. Right now I am doing a essay for food waste.

  11. joe says:

    Thanks Derrian! I hope that you found this piece useful in your essay. You can see all our Food Waste related stories at https://foodforward.org/learn/food-waste/. Good luck!

  12. Amber Giles says:

    I’m currently writing a research paper for my community nutrition class on food loss/waste in America and its effects on food insecurity and the environment. Where did you get your data on how much is wasted yearly? The USDA? Just hoping to find the source so I can cite it. Thank you!

  13. joe says:

    Hi Amber – You can find a ton of data and resources about Food Waste in this report from the Natural Resources Defense Council: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf. Good luck!

  14. Liv says:

    I’m writing a paper on how much food America wastes compared to other countries. Reading the last paragraph I’m not sure if I should do it or not anymore. Does anyone have any opinions on that?

  15. joe says:

    Thanks for your question Liv! While the United States did set goals for food waste reduction under the Obama Administration, many of those goals have not been completed or even begun. There is still lots of work to do to reduce food waste. In addition to the the information in the NRDC’s report, you can find a lot of good data here: http://www.refed.com/

  16. Julie says:

    Another huge problem with food waste is the greenhouse gas emissions from food decomposing in landfills. Good food can be donated, and food scraps can and should be recycled through composting or anaerobic digestion.

  17. joe says:

    Absolutely, thanks for adding that note Julie! We’ve got another post coming up soon that will talk a little bit about the environmental footprint of food waste.

  18. Kaye says:

    I feel that companies who sell food, should also package things in smaller quantities for small families or households with only 1 or 2 persons

  19. joe says:

    Thanks for the thought Kaye! Another great option that grocers can offer is bulk purchasing, which allows customers to buy exactly as much as they need, while cutting down on materials needed for packaging.

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