Food Waste By The Numbers

June 4, 2021

We call ourselves We Don’t Waste for a reason––and that reason is because food waste central to our mission. The food that we recover is just one part of the billions of pounds of food that goes to waste every year. 40% of all food, most of which is edible and nutritious, ends up in landfills instead of a stomach. From planting to production, to making it onto a shelf in your home, food is lost in every step of the process. 

Here are some fast facts to catch you up on the situation. 

Out of the 160 billion pounds of food that is thrown out annually, about 126 billion pounds of it is edible. 

A 15% reduction in food waste would result in a year’s worth of food for 25 million people. 

The food that ends up in a landfill ends up producing methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

With that in mind, it is clear that this problem has an obvious solution, save the food, protect the planet, and feed people instead!

There are two main categories of food waste that can help you understand the issue further…food loss and food waste. 

Food loss occurs during food production. Bad weather, a harmful pest, and a bumpy truck can all contribute to food being damaged and thrown out. A perfectly good tangerine in an odd shape or color may be thrown out by a grocer as it would be seen as ugly by a consumer. Market interest plays a part as well. As prices shift, farmers may leave entire fields unharvested due to the cost of labor versus market prices.

Food waste occurs in the form of unused foods in restaurants, hospitals, venues, and in your home. Most of the waste occurs in households, with about 76 billion pounds of food waste coming from the remains on your plate and food that goes bad in the back of the fridge. When you chop off half of the stem of the asparagus, that also contributes to the pounds of food rotting in your local landfill. 

There are several major offenses we all tend to commit that contribute to the reasons food waste is so prevalent in homes. 

  1. Food Spoilage. About two-thirds of food purchased gets thrown away due to improper storage, partial use of food, lack of visibility, and poor planning. 
  2. Over preparing. Many people cook large servings of food, some of which gets thrown away, or results in leftovers that sit until they are thrown away. 
  3. Date label confusion. Many Americans will throw away good food based on the “Sell-By” date. The label is used for peak quality in terms of shelf life but does not actually correlate with how long the food stays good to eat. 
  4. Overbuying. Many people buy bulk foods expecting to eat it all and save some money when, many times, the food ends up spoiling before it can all be consumed. 
  5. Lack of Planning. Going into the store without a plan can mean buying ingredients you won’t use, foods you don’t actually like, or too much of an ingredient before it spoils.

Luckily, all of these issues are easily solved with a little forethought. Next time you go grocery shopping, take stock of what you have in your fridge, what you actually enjoy eating, and what meals you plan to make in the future. Creating better habits to prevent food waste is one way you can make a big difference in your local environment. Check out some tips here.

The food that ends up in your municipal landfill rots and produces methane, damaging the local air quality, as well as the groundwater quality. The resulting methane from food rot accounts for about 14% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not just your local environment that suffers, think of all the gallons of water and wasted energy that went into growing the food. With fresh water and arable land becoming increasingly more difficult to secure, it is a lose-lose situation for farmland as well as your own neighborhood.

The consequences of food waste and the steps to improve are clear. It’s up to all of us to make the change! Help us spread the word to your family and friends so we all have the tools to do our part to help prevent climate destruction. 

Current food waste facts sourced from Food Print.