Lentis/Food Waste in the United States

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Food Waste in the United States is the single largest type of waste entering the landfills today.[1] The issue of food waste has grown to such an extent as to demand action from the government of the United States as well as its citizens. This can be seen through the emergence of legislation, organizations, such as Boulder Food Rescue, who are dedicated to changing the food system, and supermarkets lowering prices on expired food to prevent waste.[2] This is an issue that needs to be addressed technologically as well as socially.

Definition of Food Waste[edit | edit source]

There are multifarious definitions of food waste that vary from country to country. Even within the United States the definition varies throughout different organizations. Food waste according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency is "uneaten food and food preparation wastes from residences and commercial establishments such as grocery stores, restaurants, and produce stands, institutional cafeterias and kitchens, and industrial sources like employee lunchrooms." [3] The United States Department of Agriculture defines food waste as, "reductions in edible food mass anywhere along the food chain." [4]

Causes[edit | edit source]

There is no one cause of food waste in the United States. It is the accumulation of many sources combined together that creates such a large percentage of food waste, making it the astronomical concern it has become today.[5]

Process of Food Waste

Production[edit | edit source]

Throughout food production produce often goes unharvested due to damage caused by nature (weather, pests, disease etc.). Farmers also harvest based on a cost analysis; if the market is slow or there is low demand they may not harvest to save money on labor and transportation. Another cause of food waste is food safety concerns. This was seen in the 2008 alleged salmonella contamination in tomatoes. This scare, though later discovered to be unfounded, resulted in nearly thirty-two percent of tomatoes going unharvested.[6]

Processing and Distribution[edit | edit source]

Food waste is also seen in the processing and distribution processes. In processing, the majority of food loss is through trimming, the process by which non-desirable parts of food is discarded. Other sources of food waste are overproduction, product damage, and technical malfunctions in processing and refrigeration. Throughout distribution food waste occurs through improper storage temperature and the reject of food shipments from the stores.[7][8]

Retail and Households[edit | edit source]

Food waste in retail is a result of overstocking shelves in order to maintain full shelves, throwing out produce that is physically undesirable,[8] and expired “sell by” dates that get discarded to make room for a fresher product.Drivers of waste in food service include large portions provided to customers, inflexibility of chain-store management, and pressure to maintain enough food supply to offer extensive menu choices at all times.[9] Food waste in households is a result of bulk purchases, poor planning, and over preparation.[10]

Statistics[edit | edit source]

Food waste in the U.S.

In the United States approximately forty percent of all food goes uneaten. Over thirty-six million tons of food waste reach landfills each year in the United States.[11] In 2011, an estimated 4.1 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants, and homes never made it into people's stomachs totaling approximately $48 billion per year. Food waste is the single largest component in American landfills. Food waste is responsible for 135 million tons of greenhouse gasses each year. Food wasted per person in the United States has increased fifty percent since 1974. Food waste currently accounts for twenty-five percent of the United States' freshwater consumption and 300 million barrels of oil per year.[12][13][14]

Responses[edit | edit source]

Food waste can be prevented, used to feed people, or composed to create a valuable soil amendment.[11] The figure below shows the Food Recovery Hierarchy which displays the preferred options to make the most of excess food.[11]

Hiearchy of recovery options for mitigating food waste to landfills

Prevention Programs[edit | edit source]

Food waste prevention is the strategy of preventing food waste before it is created. Wasted food has economic, environmental, and social impacts. Much of this "waste" is not waste at all, but actually safe, wholesome food that could potentially feed millions of Americans. Prevention programs benefit people by reducing dispoal costs, labor costs, resources associated with food production, and GHG emissions. The follow lists are guidelines to food waste prevention strategies.[15][16]

Do a Food Waste Assessment[edit | edit source]

One of the first steps to reducing food waste is measuring and tracking the amount, type, and reason for its generation. Knowing how much and why food waste is generated will enable a business to create targeted food waste prevention strategies. This will serve as a baseline for measuring the diversion rate and change in spending. [15] [17]

Reduce Food Waste in the Kitchen[edit | edit source]

Implementing a system to ensure that consumers purchase only what is needed will also reduce food waste. It is equally important to ensure food is stored properly so that the older products are used first. People should consider secondary use for excess food and reduce prep waste and improperly cooked food. [15]

Reduce Plate Waste[edit | edit source]

Small garnishes and improper serving sizes quickly add up to a significant amount of food waste. Strategies to reduce this waste include avoiding the use of edible and rarely eaten garnishes, reducing serving size while satisfying a customer's appetite, modifying menus to reduce portion sizes, and prevention programs that encourage consumers to order less food. [15] [18]

Waste Reduction Organizations[edit | edit source]

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations[edit | edit source]

FAO collaborates with multi-lateral agencies, financial institutions and private sector partners to implement food waste reduction programs that rest on four main pillars. First, awareness raising on the impact of solutions for food waste that will be accomplished through a global communication and media campaign. Collaboration of worldwide initiatives on food waste reduction. Policy, strategy and program development studies the socio-economic impacts and the political framework that affects food waste. Lastly, it is important for private and public sectors to support investment projects. [19]

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency[edit | edit source]

EPA regulates food waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA's goals are to protect society from the hazards of waste disposal, conserve energy and natural resources by recycling and recovery, and reduce and clean up the waste which may have been improperly disposed. [20] EPA's main goal is to protect human health and the environment by ensuring responsible national management of hazardous and nonhazardous waste. They achieve to conserve resources by reducing waste, prevent future waste disposal problems by enforcing regulations and clean up the areas where waste may have spilled. EPA works with individual states, industry, environmental groups, and the public to promote sate waste management. [20]

Boulder Food Rescue and Food Policy Coalition[edit | edit source]

As a non-profit organization, Boulder Food Rescue strives to create a more just and less wasteful food system. They facilitate the redistribution of food waste to agencies that feed hungry, homeless, and low income populations.[21]

The Food Policy Coalition coordinates public-private partnerships to establish Cleveland as a model for food security through regional food system development.[22]

Benefits of Food Waste Reduction[edit | edit source]

Reducing the amount of food waste in the United States has a variety of economic, environmental and social benefits. These benefits are often closely tied with minimizing the amount of food waste that makes its way to landfills each year.

Economic Benefits[edit | edit source]

Businesses can lower their disposal costs by reducing the amount of food waste. Disposal and composting companies often charge less if food waste is separated from other garbage so that it can composted and recycled. Profits can be increased by purchasing the proper amount of product and by purchasing only products that will sell before they spoil. Tax Benefits are often given to companies for donating food to food banks, homeless shelters and charities. These methods can reduce the amount of food that is wasted and simultaneously helps feed those in need.[11]

Environmental and Social Benefits[edit | edit source]

Resources such as soil, fertilizer, water, labor and energy that are used to create food are wasted as a result of food waste. This translates to an economic benefit because minimizing food waste means minimizing the costs of growing, manufacturing, transporting and disposal. Composted food waste can be used to treat soil and reduce the amount of supplemental fertilizers and pesticides. Compost created from food waste can become a valuable resource for continued eco-friendly food production. As disposed food begins to rot it creates foul odors, attracts pests, and grows (sometimes harmful) mold. These problems could be eliminated through the use of reusable, airtight containers that are emptied at compost sites. The potential benefits of implementing such a system include increased sanitation, public safety and health.[11] Despite our abundance of food waste, a large number of people in the United States do not get the amount of food that they need. Donating food to food banks and homeless shelters will help feed people rather than landfills.[11]

Consumer Decision Making[edit | edit source]

Although the majority of food waste occurs at a higher level such as production and distribution, there are still ways for everyone to do their part in reducing their own waste. There are many options for people who wish to reduce the amount of food they waste in their own home including,

  • Shopping smart: Buy only what you need, make a list and avoid supermarket deals that could lead you to overstocking.
  • Stay informed: There is often some confusion concerning the "use-by" and "best-by" dates that appear on perishable goods. These dates are not set in stone, but are simply manufacturers recommendation for peak quality.
  • Freeze it: Using your freezer slows down the life cycle of live cells in foods allowing them to stay fresh longer and giving you a chance to eat them before they expire.
  • Request less: Requesting smaller portions at restaurants is a great way to cut down the amount of food that will end up in the trash.
  • Eat leftovers: Request to have your leftovers packaged so that you can bring them home and eat them later. Avoid buying and preparing more food when you have perfectly good leftovers in the refrigerator.
  • Compost it: Consider starting a compost pile. This is a great way to reduce your harmful food waste and is an environmentally conscious means of disposal.
  • Donate it: Be aware of whether or not you think you will consume your goods before they go bad. If you think you have food that is likely to go to waste then donate it to a charity, food drive, soup kitchen or friend in need.


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

In order to effectively reduce our food waste in the U.S. it will take more than just a technical solution or legal mandate. To solve a problem this large there must first be a change in American culture. Wasting food must be deemed socially unacceptable and irresponsible, and everyone must do their part to curb the amount of food they waste. If American citizens can change their frame of thinking from the current mindset that waste is not an issue, then, and only then will waste reduction plans take effect.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "USDA and EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge: Calls on both Public Sector and Private Industry to reduce food waste.". United States Department of Agriculture. 2013. http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2013/06/0112.xml. 
  2. Zap, Claudine (2013). Trader Joe's Ex-President to Turn Expired Food Into Cheap Meals. Retrieved from: http://news.yahoo.com/trader-joe’s-ex-president-to-turn-expired-food-into-cheap-meals---p--222108892.html
  3. "Terms of Environment: Glossary, Abbreviations and Acronyms (Glossary F)". United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2006. http://www.epa.gov/OCEPAterms/fterms.html. Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  4. Office of the Chief Economist (2013) "Frequently Asked Questions.". United States Department of Agriculture. 2013. http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm. 
  5. Simon, Ben (2013). America’s Food Waste Problem and Hope in the Food Recovery Movement. Retrieved from http://foodtank.org/news/2013/09/americas-food-waste-problem-and-hope-in-the-food-recovery-movement
  6. Flanders, Archie (2008). Economic Impact of Georgia Tomato Production Value Losses due to the U.S. Salmonella Outbreak. Retrieved from: http://athenaeum.libs.uga.edu/bitstream/handle/10724/18683/CR-08-17.pdf?sequence=1
  7. Plumer, Brad (2012). How the U.S. Manages to Waste $165 Billion in Food Each Year. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/22/how-food-actually-gets-wasted-in-the-united-states/
  8. a b Gunders, Dana (2012). Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. Retrieved from: http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf
  9. Kantor, L., Lipton, L., Manchester, A., & Oliveira, V. (1997). Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Losses, USDA Food Review. January–April 1997, p. 2-12.
  10. Wansink, B., Koert, B., & Ittersum, V. (2007). Portion Size Me: Downsizing Our Consumption Norms. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2007, 107, No. 7, 1103-1106.
  11. a b c d e f EPA (2013 September). Reducing Food Waste for Businesses. Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/foodrecovery/ Invalid <ref> tag; name "EPA" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name "EPA" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name "EPA" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name "EPA" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name "EPA" defined multiple times with different content
  12. USDA (2013). USDA and EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge: Calls on both Public Sector and Private Industry to reduce food waste. Retrieved from: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2013/06/0112.xml
  13. a b Riley, K. (2013). 21 Shocking U.S. Food Waste Facts & Statiscics – Infographic. Retrieved from: http://atozsolutions.com/21-shocking-u-s-food-waste-facts-statistics-infographic/
  14. BSR (2013 April). Analysis of U.S. Food Waste Among Food Manufacturers, Retailers, and Wholesalers Retrieved from: http://www.foodwastealliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/FWRA_BSR_Tier2_FINAL.pdf
  15. a b c d U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(2013 June).Food Waste Reduction and Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/foodrecovery/fd-reduce.htm
  16. Prventing Food Waste with Reduction (2013).Food Waste Reduction. Retrieved from: http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/ecocomm.nsf/Climate+Change/sustainablefood-webinar-061412
  17. NYC Recycles. Recycling and Waste Production. Retrieved from: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/about/about.shtml
  18. Reducing Food Waste(2013).Food Waste Prevention. Retrieved from: http://blogs.usda.gov/2013/07/11/reducing-food-waste-its-more-than-just-cleaning-your-plate/
  19. FAO (2013). SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Losses and Waste Reductiom. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/save-food/en/
  20. a b EPA (2013). Wastes. Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/
  21. Boulder Food Rescue (2013). Projects. Retrieved from: http://www.boulderfoodrescue.org/
  22. Food Policy Coalition (2013). About. Retrieved from: http://cccfoodpolicy.org/vision-mission-goals/