Sustainable America Blog

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge

Photo Credit: szczel via Compfight cc

Earlier this month, the USDA and the EPA teamed-up to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. The challenge asks individuals and groups from every facet of the food system – including farmers, producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, government agencies, and consumers – to reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills. The agencies have set a goal to reduce food loss and waste, recover edible, nutritious food for human consumption, and recycle discarded food to other uses including animal feed, composting, and energy generation.

By taking this important step, the U.S. joins countries like the U.K. that have already taken nationwide action against food waste. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has stated that food waste is a moral issue in a country where people go hungry. In our 2013 Food and Fuel public opinion survey, we found that 6 in 10 Americans know someone personally who has struggled recently to afford food. Reducing food waste can help make more food available to those who are struggling.

With the announcement, the USDA has committed to attacking food waste on many fronts. Notable commitments include:

“Many aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables are actually prohibited from sale, and sometimes even from donation, by marketing orders (industry standards, enforced by USDA, that establish certain rules of sale, including creating “grades” of product). Much of this product is perfectly edible and nutritious. As part of the challenge, USDA will try to increase the ability to donate some of the products that are prohibited from sale, starting with table grapes. In addition, they will also aim to facilitate more donations of the 48 million pounds of produce rejected at ports annually.”

The fight against food waste is nothing new to Sustainable America. Our stated goal has always been to cut our nation’s food waste in half by 2035, using strategies similar to those outlined by the USDA this month. Sustainable America’s latest survey results show that 60 percent of Americans believe reducing food waste at restaurants and grocery stores is the best way to increase food availability in the U.S., which is very much in line with both the USDA’s strategy and our own. Sustainable America is also working with a number of organizations to accomplish zero food waste goals, starting with Stamford, Connecticut’s own Alive@Five outdoor summer concert series. Look for our compost bins at Alive@Five concerts this summer! We are thrilled about the USDA and the EPA’s commitment to cutting food waste, and support the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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