America Trashes 40% of Food Supply

NRDC urges that more be done to cut food waste from farm to table to landfill. Ag and industry already addressing the issue.

Published on: Aug 28, 2012

Americans are throwing away 40% of food in the U.S., the equivalent of $165 billion in uneaten food each year. That's the bottom line of a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental group.

"As a country, we're essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path. That's money and precious resources down the drain," charges Dana Gunders, NRDC project scientist with the food and agriculture program.

"With the price of food continuing to grow, and drought jeopardizing farmers nationwide, now is the time to embrace all the tremendous untapped opportunities to get more out of our food system," says Gunders, adding that, "We can do better."

DESTINED FOR ENERGY: Millions of tons of rejected fruit, vegetables and horticultural products already find their way to farm-based methane digesters - a growing opportunity for farms to tap energy savings and cut environmental methane pollution.
DESTINED FOR ENERGY: Millions of tons of rejected fruit, vegetables and horticultural products already find their way to farm-based methane digesters - a growing opportunity for farms to tap energy savings and cut environmental methane pollution.

NRDC's brief, Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm To Fork to Landfill , analyzes case studies and government data on the causes and extent of food losses at every level of the U.S. food supply chain. It also provides examples and recommendations for reducing this waste.

Key findings

  • The average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food.
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.
  • Just a 15% reduction in losses in the U.S. food supply would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans annually.
  • U.S. food wastes have jumped 50% since the 1970s.
  • Grocery stores and other sellers are losing as much as $15 billion annually in unsold fruits and vegetables alone, with about half of the nationwide supply going uneaten.
  • Fresh produce is lost more than any other food product — including seafood, meat, grains and dairy — at nearly every stage in the supply chain.
  • Large portions and uneaten leftovers in restaurants and homes also consumers major contributors to the problem.
  • Uneaten food accounts for 23% percent of all U.S. methane emissions in the U.S. - a potent climate change pollutant.

However, the report fails to acknowledge the fast-growing response by the food industry, landfill operators and agriculture to minimize those losses and to recapture some of the value. Led by state and federal incentives, food merchants and landfills are adopting technologies to convert food wastes to energy. Returning food wastes to farm methane digesters, for example, holds opportunity for agriculture to benefit.

More government intervention?

NRDC wants the U.S. government to conduct a comprehensive study of losses in our food system and set national goals for waste reduction. This may require steps such as clarifying date labels on food, encouraging food recovery, and improving public awareness about ways to waste less. State and local governments can also lead by setting similar targets.

NRDC also contends that businesses should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money. The Stop and Shop grocery chain, for instance, is already doing this successfully, saving an estimated $100 million annually after an analysis of freshness, loss, and customer satisfaction in their perishables department. Others should follow suit - and, in fact, are doing so.