According to the National Resources Defense Council, America loses up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. This means that Americans are overbuying and underusing food.
Food waste comes at a cost. When almost 97 percent of food waste generated in the United States (33 million tons annually) ends up in the landfill instead of in the hands and mouths of those who need it, valuable resources are squandered. It also equates to a gross misspending of money. Americans are throwing away billions of dollars by not making use of food. Ironically, despite the massive amount that is thrown away, there are still more than 22 million households in the United States that are either moderately or extremely food insecure, meaning millions of adults and children are stressed and unsure about where their next meal is coming from.
Why are we wasting such a valuable resource? Could it be that people take our ease of access to food for granted? It seems that there’s a disconnect, especially when many don’t consider environmental implications when they throw out an uneaten to-go box or loaf of bread that has gone stale. With grocery stores that are always stocked, an abundant food production industry, and waste management systems that keep trash out of sight, it makes sense that many people don’t realize the severity of the food waste crisis. However, every year the wealthier countries of the world waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).
Fortunately, both the government and private sectors alike are taking steps to reduce waste and educate the public. In the United States, there are laws enacted to stimulate waste diversion — i.e., food donation. One example is the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act; this bill encourages food donations by limiting legal liability that could come from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of “apparently wholesome food” that is donated to a nonprofit organization for the distribution to needy individuals.
In the private sector, many industries are getting on board with food donation, as well, especially in companies where food waste is abundant such as restaurants and grocery stores. Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Target have teamed up with organizations such as Food Finder and Feeding America to transport the leftover food in their stores to shelters for donation. This prevents food from going stale on the grocery store’s shelves and puts it in the hands of families who need it most.
Some restaurants and food supply companies, such as Panera and Sodexo, also have implemented programs to help limit their food waste. Panera has a program called Operation Dough-Nation that partners with local food pantries and homeless shelters in the area. They donate all of their extra baked goods to the local shelters and food pantries. Sodexo, one of the leading food suppliers for most universities across the United States, teamed up with Food Recovery Network to ensure that good dining hall food does not end up in the trash, but rather given to those in need, as well.
While initiatives from the government, businesses, and nonprofits have made a tremendous impact, it is the responsibility of all able citizens to do their part, too, in reducing food waste. In a private home, food waste not only ends up in a local landfill (where decomposing food releases harmful greenhouse gases), but also wastes natural resources as so much goes into producing our food. Letting one apple go bad and end up in the trash wastes the 25 gallons of water used to grow it. Tossing one unused egg wastes 50 gallons.
Read more: The Facts on Food Waste