“Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill”

In the past few years, many environmental and sustainability organizations have drawn attention to the fact that global food production is a highly resource intensive cycle, and that much can be done to improve the sustainability of this cycle (i.e. composting, meatless Mondays, going completely vegan, buying organic product, etc.) However, little attention has been paid to the fact that 40% of the food produced in the US ends up in the landfill, a statistic that has risen by 50% in the past 40 years. Although the USDA released a report in 1997 on food loss in America, few studies have been conducted since. Last month, the National Resource Defense Council published a new report entitled “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill”, which highlights how much, and in what ways, food is wasted at each step of the food supply chain. Some important points raised by the paper include:

  • A significant amount of food is wasted at every stage of the food supply chain, so a plan to reduced national food waste needs to be fairly comprehensive. Production, Post-Harvest, Handling and Storage, Processing and Packaging, Distribution and Retail, as well as Consumer-level food losses all need to be addressed.
  • American families throw out approximately 25% of all the food that they buy. This is due to a number of factors including undervaluing food (it’s cheap and readily available for most people), spoilage, as well as impulse and bulk purchases. For the average household of four, this means $1,350 to $2,275 are wasted each year due to unused groceries.
  • Sell by and use by dates are NOT federally regulated (except for certain baby foods), and do not indicated food safety. These labels are merely manufacturers’ suggestions for “peak quality”, but confusion over these labels has contributed 20% of avoidable food waste.

The NRDC’s report also provides a number of recommendations on waste reduction for policy makers and consumers. Here are our favorites:

  • Support and enable food recovery especially through stronger tax incentives for food donations, which would make it profitable for restaurants, processing factories, retail outlets, and farmers, to redirect the food away from the landfill and onto someone’s plate.
  • Revise quality and aesthetic standards at each level of the supply chain to ensure that perfectly good produce does not go to waste simply because it isn’t pretty enough. This can be done by finding other outlets for unwanted food such as discount grocery stores, or separate product lines for imperfect produce.
  • Promote flexible menus at restaurants that “use specials to flush out inventory, limit menu choices [which can limit the number of ingredients necessary for the restaurant to stock], planning for food re-purposing, and avoiding large buffets [where unused food cannot be recovered].”

Here at FlashFood, we hope that this report will draw attention to the huge missed opportunity (for sustainability and anti-hunger initiatives) that is national food waste. Follow this link to the full report.

What do you think is the biggest issue contributing to waste within the food supply chain? Do you think the NRDC’s recommendations are feasible?

–Mary Hannah


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