Report: Americans Waste 40% of Edible Food
Forty percent of food in the United States goes to waste, according to a report released by the National Resources Defense Council. Much of the waste is caused by consumers, as more than $40 worth of food, roughly 33 pounds, is thrown away by the average American each month. If just 5% less food were wasted, it would be enough to feed four million Americans.
The report points out that large amounts of money and resources are also wasted, not only in non-use, but also in the actual act of disposing of food. Thirty-four million tons of landfill waste are produced from discarded food each year, and it cost $750 million per year to dispose of it. The waste doesn’t end with food: as a direct outcome, 4% of total U.S. oil consumption and 25% of freshwater that went into the growing of food are also wasted.
Food in America is sometimes wasted before even reaching consumers. Crops are sometimes left unharvested due to their appearance not meeting supermarket-imposed standards, and food is also sometimes mishandled or stored improperly during its transportation. Restaurants also contribute to the waste, with larger than necessary portions.
Travelers can help reduce waste by requesting smaller portions when dining out, sharing entrées, taking leftovers home or back to the hotel, and bringing small snacks along on trips so that they don’t have to purchase larger ones that will go uneaten.
The food industry is the direct beneficiary of America’s wasteful habits. The waste contributes to profits in the food industry as the waste simply generates more sales.
Americans can take immediate action to reduce the amount of food they waste by saving leftovers, using a freezer to store food, and composting, among other recommendations mentioned in the report. Standardizing sell-by and use-by dates will also help, the NRDC pointed out, as many people discard perfectly good food simply because the date on the packaging has passed. “Food is simply too good to waste,” the report says. “Given all the resources demanded for food production, it is critical to make sure that the least amount possible is needlessly squandered on its journey to our plates.”
While the numbers are staggering, the report fails to indicate what the level of waste is in other countries, and also does not indicate what the minimum waste level would be if all of its recommendations were followed. It also fails to offer realistic goals that could be met in the coming years.
The National Resources Defense Council is an environmental action group with a membership of over 1.3 million. Its website lists its mission as combating global warming, defending wildlife, creating clean energy, cutting pollution, protecting water supplies, and reviving the world’s oceans.
(Graphic: National Resources Defense Council)