America food waste statistics

How much food America waste?

More than a third of the food made in the United States is never eaten, it is a waste of resources used to produce it and causing a variety of environmental impacts. 22 percent of municipal solid waste is landfilled and incinerated, respectively. Reducing food waste offers opportunities to increase food security, increase productivity and economic efficiency, promote resource and energy conservation, and combat climate change.

Globally, food loss and waste account for 8% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (4.4 gigatonnes of CO2e per year) and offer the possibility of obtaining significant reductions. Reducing food waste can also help feed the growing world population more sustainably.

The Organization of the United Nations(UN) predicts that the world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050. This increase in population requires an increase in food production of more than 50% compared to levels in 2010. Food waste can reduce the need for new food production, reduce anticipated deforestation, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and water scarcity.

In 2015, the United States announced a goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030, but the nation still has significant progress to make. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepared this report to inform policymakers, researchers, and the public nationwide about (1) the environmental footprint of food loss and waste (FLW) in the United States and (2) the potential environmental benefits achieved by reducing USFLW. The report examines FLW impacts from farm to kitchen (cradle to fork), excluding FLW management impacts.

Given the size and dynamic complexity of the US food system, no single comprehensive estimate of the total amount of food in the US has been agreed. Instead, the literature contains several credible estimates, varying in scope and methodology.

Estimates suggest that food is lost or wasted at all stages of the food supply chain (from primary production to consumption ) and ranges from 73 to 152 million tonnes (161 to 335 billion pounds) per year, or 223 to 468 kg (492, to 1,032 pounds ) per person/ per year, which is about 35 percent of the U.S. Food supply. About half of these foods are wasted in the consumption phase (households and catering), with fruits and vegetables and dairy products and eggs being the most frequently wasted foods.

The thrown away food results in a waste of resources, including agricultural land, water, pesticides, fertilizers and energy – and to the generation of environmental impacts – including greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, consumption and depletion of freshwater resources, loss of biodiversity, and ecosystem services and deterioration in soil and air quality.

• 22 trillion liters (5.9 trillion gallons) of blue water: equivalent to the annual water use of 50 million US homes;

• 350 million kg (778 million pounds) of pesticides;

• 6.35 billion kg (14 billion pounds) of fertilizer: enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced in the United States each year for domestic consumption;

• 2.4 billion GJ (664 billion kWh) of energy, enough to power more than 50 million U.S. Houses for a year; and

• GHG emissions of 170 million MTCO2e (excluding landfill emissions), equivalent to annual CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.

These uneaten foods also contain enough calories to feed more than 150 million people each year, far more than the estimated. 35 million Americans are food insecure.

Food lost during primary production represents the resources used to grow it, while food wasted during the consumption phase includes the resources used to grow, process, pack, store, and distribute the food until be used for their arrival.

The US targets could significantly reduce the resource use and environmental impact of the US food system. Researchers estimate this means halving US values. FLW could reduce the environmental footprint of the current cradle-to-table food supply chain by:

  • Over 300,000 square kilometers (75 million acres) of farmland – an area larger than Arizona;
  • 12 trillion liters (3.2 trillion gallons) of blue water: equivalent to the annual water use of 29 million US homes;
  • Nearly 290,000 tonnes (640 million pounds) of bioavailable nitrogen from agricultural fertilizers with the potential to reach a body of water, cause algal blooms and degrade water quality;
  • 940 million GJ (262 billion kWh) of energy: enough to power 21.5 million US homes for a year; and
  • 92 million MTCO2e GHG: equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 23 coal-fired power plants.

The greatest environmental benefits can be achieved through prevention rather than recycling. The greatest benefits in terms of energy and greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by reducing the FLW of homes and restaurants. By focusing on reducing FLW of the most resource-intensive foods, such as animal products and fruits and vegetables, can achieve the greatest environmental benefits.

Contribution to this global issue and highlighting the key similarities and differences between regions and countries. Currently, the United States wastes more than foods and more food per person than most other countries in the world. Additionally, the environmental impact of each US unit of food loss and waste is greater than most other countries, as the US wastes more food downstream and wastes more animal products than the world average. Fortunately, positive examples of progress are emerging in similar countries.

Over the past decade, countries such as the UK and Japan have significantly reduced food waste, contributing to global efforts under the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As the world’s population and incomes increase, and the environment is stressed by increased food production, a reduction in agriculture’s per-person ecological footprint will be critical to the planet’s sustainability.

There are limited options available to sustainably increase the global food supply, to meet the growing demand. Closing yield gaps and increasing productivity alone may not be enough to prevent further deforestation and environmental degradation.

Even under the most promising scenarios for increasing yields, up to 20% more area will be needed by 2050 to sustainably increase the food supply. A recent study estimates that halving global FLW between 2020 and 2100 could result in a 24, % (331 Gt CO2e) reduction in cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from the global food system, compared to a typical commercial scenario.

Some of the key research needed to help the United States meet its goal of halving food loss and waste includes:

  • Improving US FLW data by improving accuracy and addressing data gaps.
  • Increase the frequency with which the United States can track progress in reducing FLW.
  • Quantifying the environmental impacts associated with imported food waste in the United States.
  • Increase understanding of the interaction between stages of the food system supply chain in relation to FLW.
  • Life cycle impact assessment of proposed FLW prevention strategies.
  • Exploring trends in the US.S.’s food system will impact FLW and its ecological footprint in the future.
  • Deepen our understanding of drivers of FLW unique to the United States.
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