Sustainable America Blog

What Is Food Waste

What is food waste and what can I do about it?

Food waste is a significant problem. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 1/3 of food produced for humans in the world is either lost or wasted.

Think about that for a moment: 1/3 of the food we produce and all the energy, time, resources (water, land) and money that went into growing it, packaging it and shipping it is wasted.


Here are a few other startling facts from the UNFAO website:

  • Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tons in 2009/2010).

Some of this loss is due to poor infrastructure, especially in developing countries, when the food is processed, stored and package for distribution. But a lot of the waste comes from consumers in the developed world.

What can you do to curb your own food waste?

  • Only buy or order what you need and what you can eat. A lot of food is thrown out because it’s gone bad.
  • Take home your leftovers and eat them, or Replate them.
  • If something does go bad in your fridge or you can’t save the leftovers, then compost the food waste. At least the compost will contribute to soil health and growing more food.
  • Be less picky about the appearance of your fruits and vegetables. A lot of food is thrown out because it’s not attractive enough for consumers.
  • Talk to your local restaurants about donating food they can’t use to a local food pantry and/or starting a compost or a restaurant grade worm bin.

It’s time to realize that throwing away food is no longer acceptable practice. Raising awareness and changing personal habits is the first step.




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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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