Only China and the United States spew out more greenhouse gases than those coming from the conjectural land of food waste.
If it were a country, the value of all the food would put it in in the top 20 of the world’s economic powers.
If the populations of China, India, and Europe all lived there, they could be easily sustained by the squandered nutrition.
The planet’s top food wasters are right here in the U.S.
In a single month, the average American household tosses out 20 pounds of perfectly good food for each family member. While food waste in the developing world tends to occur in the supply chain (from issues like inadequate refrigeration or transportation) most of America’s food waste takes place at the consumer level. Last year we threw out about $180 billion worth of food—nearly 40% of what we produced and 10 times more per capita than our counterparts in other parts of the world.
Why do we waste so much?
We buy too much. We shop aspirationally and impulsively and buy the wrong things. We want only the most pristine, unblemished vegetables and fruits. We’re arbitrary about freshness, allowing some foods to go bad and discarding others while they’re still sound. And we do it because we can afford to. Over the last 30 years we’ve halved our household expenditures on food from 12% of the total to 6%; in the same period food waste went from 10% to 20% of the nation’s garbage.
The scale of the problem is massive; the fixes are all small steps.
Last week the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the nation’s first-ever food waste reduction goal. Together they launched a consumer education campaign, new food donation guidelines, and newly established partnerships within the private and public sectors aimed at a realistically achievable 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.
Food waste reduction can be compared to the national campaign against littering that was tackled through PSAs and other citizen actions back in the 1960’s and ’70s.
Previously, people thought nothing of rolling down a window and tossing trash onto highways. The campaign sparked a national dialogue, shining a light on the problem, stigmatizing the behavior, and eventually created a new national ethic of environmentalism. This time, we need to connect the dots between hunger, sustainability, and waste, sensitizing America and the world to the epic tragedy of food waste.