133 billion pounds of food goes to waste in the United States each year. It is estimated that 40% of food that is grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be eaten by consumers with 43% of food in American homes thrown away.
Restaurants in the United States generate anywhere from 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste per year, with a single restaurant wasting approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food. 85% of unused food in a typical American restaurant is thrown away, with only a small percent recycled or donated to those in need. Meanwhile, 12% of households suffer from food insecurity and 42 million food-insecure people live in the United States. Disposal of edible food results in staggering financial and social negative effects for the United States economy.
With a price tag of approximately $218 billion per year, the United States economy cannot afford to ignore food wastage any longer. These hundreds of billions spent on growing, processing, and disposing of food that is never eaten account for 1.3% of our total gross domestic product.
Decreasing or eliminating wastefulness would not only benefit businesses in the food industry but America as a whole. An additional 15,000 permanent jobs could be produced to facilitate recycling, composting, and related needs. America could redirect the hundreds of billions spent on growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of uneaten food. These costs are also transferred to consumers who pay higher costs for the food they purchase and are often forced or encouraged to buy much larger portions than needed. Consumers would collectively save around $5.6 billion annually by not purchasing food they will never eat.
A contributing factor to this problem is that the United States does not possess strict policies or actionable social awareness surrounding the waste of food. Americans express concern about food waste, with 75% of respondents rating the issue as important or very important to them. In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Environmental Protection Agency embraced federal targets to cut food waste by 50% by 2030.
Social and societal attitudes reflect a willingness and motivation to decrease wastefulness. However, without education and resources, these well-meant intentions may also be wasted. Establishing food preservation practices will benefit not only the social wellbeing of the food industry businesses but also the larger community that they serve. The butterfly effect of mitigating the impact of food waste may change not only America but the entire world.
The World's Problem
The economic costs of global food waste are estimated at $1 trillion, the environmental costs are around $700 billion, and the social cost is around $900 billion. while 820 million people go hungry every day. While globally 6 billion tons of agriculture is produced for food and non-food uses, the volume of food wastage is estimated to be between 1.3-1.6 billion tons of food. 1 in 9 people do not have enough food to live their lives healthily and more people die from hunger every day than from malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis combined.
Food waste causes exorbitant environmental consequences, ranging from negative impacts on climate change to the squandering of precious natural resources. Greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation and heat up the earth's atmosphere resulting in global warming and climate change. Landfills produce a large amount of methane gas, which is many times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The carbon footprint of food waste results in 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year. Food waste impacts biodiversity at a global level, with more species becoming extinct every year.
The loss and waste of food also deplete our planet's most precious resources. Agriculture claims 70% of the water used around the world and roughly 1/3rd of the world's agricultural land is used to grow food that is wasted. While 54% percent of global food waste occurs "upstream" (food production, post-harvest handling, storage), about 46% of it happens "downstream (processing, distribution, human consumption). The further down the food chain that food is wasted or lost, the greater the environmental impact. Our need as individuals, nations, and as a global community to mitigate the impact of food waste is a pressing issue and social responsibility that can no longer be ignored.