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18 Surprising Facts That Will Motivate You to Stop Wasting Food

The problem of food waste goes well beyond how much we leave on our plates after a meal.

Photo Credit: Only Fabrizio/


With nearly 100 percent certainty I can assure you we won’t be hearing President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, or their respective surrogates, talking about America’s food waste dilemma (or what I and  others would describe as a crisis) in the months ahead.  That’s too bad since food waste is creating significant  social, economic and environmental consequences for the US (and the world).

This growing crisis and the fact that discarded food provides a unique lens through which to view the water/energy/agriculture nexus (a topic of great interest to us here at GRACE and Ecocentric), prompted me to take a closer look at the food that goes uneaten and how it impacts Americans.  While researching this trending topic, I learned some interesting facts I thought I’d share.

What a Waste!

1. Between one quarter and one half of the more than 590 billion pounds of food produced each year in the United States is squandered during the farm-to-table supply chain.  Using this range, food writer and food waste expert  Jonathan Bloom estimates that, every day America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl – the 90,000-seat football stadium in Pasadena, California – and sometimes it’s as much as two stadiums full.

2. Americas’ per capita food waste has  increased by 50 percent since 1974.

3. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2010 discarded food represented the  single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills and incinerators.

4. Food waste represents a significant cost to local governments (and ultimately taxpayers who already paid for it once as consumers), which is why many municipalities like the  City of Santa Monica, California and Charleston County, South Carolina are adopting food waste collection and composting programs.

5. Food waste is particularly egregious at a time when hunger is a growing problem and an increasing human rights issue.  If we wasted just 5 percent less food, it would be enough to feed 4 million Americans;  20 percent less waste could feed 25 million Americans annually.

6. Approximately $100 to $160 billion is spent each year on producing food that is ultimately wasted. (This estimate comes from Jonathan Bloom’s  American Wasteland.)

How Food Gets Wasted

7. Crops are sometimes  left unharvested because their appearance does not meet strict quality standards required by many supermarkets and expected by consumers.

8. A large portion of food waste occurs in households.  The average American throws away  20 pounds of food each month or about two-thirds of a pound per person per day.

9. Fresh products like fish, eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables  make up most of household food waste.

10. Much of household food waste is due to spoilage, overcooking, plate waste and over-purchasing.  According to  new research commissioned by  WRAP (an advocacy group established to implement and market recycling in the UK), about two-thirds of annual household waste in the UK is due to food not being used in time, whereas the other one-third is caused by people cooking or serving too much.

11. Restaurants also contribute to the problem with supersized portions, sprawling menus and inadequate training for food handlers when it comes to minimizing food waste.

12. Some waste happens because  people are confused about “use-by” and “best-by” dates – which are based on manufacturer suggestions for peak quality – and can cause people to throw out food for fear that it is spoiled, when in fact it is still consumable.

13. Most grocery stores discard food products as soon as they are past their  “sell-by” dateseven though these products still have shelf life left.

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