Food Waste in America: $452 Million Per Day

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Fact: Every day, America wastes an average of $452 million in producing food that is never consumed. On Thanksgiving, chances are, food waste statistics will eclipse that average. In fact, $452 million wasted equates to $18.8 million per hour, $313,927 per minute, and $5,232 per second. But who’s counting?

The problem is that few of us are. And, now is the time to start making all of our food count. Count to feeding the hungry. Count to be used as compost. And, even count to be used as fuel. The food on our tables does not have to go to waste.

The numbers are big with a capital “B”. On an annual basis, $165 billion (that is with a “b”) is wasted on producing food that never gets eaten. This happens all along the value chain – farmers use 80% of our nation’s drinking water supply and 10% of our nation’s energy supply to grow food.

Think of the carrots and potatoes you bought for Thanksgiving. Did you stop to notice that each one was perfect? That’s because all the irregularly shaped produce was destroyed at the farm, because the farmer knew that the grocer wouldn’t buy it. Those vegetables were going to be chopped or mashed anyway, so why do we care if it looks a little wonky on the grocery shelf?

When that food is brought home, up to a quarter of it languishes in the back of the refrigerator, and eventually is tossed in the garbage. Some of it is thrown out too soon. We misread “Best By” dates on food packaging, and assume that the food is instantly bad the next day – not so. Imagine walking from the grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and just leaving it there. That is what we are doing with all the food we waste. It’s up to $2,275 per year for a family of four. That’s real money.

The U.S. also has a responsibility as a global citizen. We are one of the top three producers of food alongside China at number 1, and India at number 2. Plus, the US is the top exporter of food. In many parts of the globe, demand rapidly exceeds supply.

As the global population surges from 7 billion (2012) to 9 billion in 2035 (UN estimates range from 8 to 10 billion), the amount of calories demanded will grow by 25%. This is in part because as the middle class grows in developing countries, demand for meat, dairy and other proteins also increases, which further strains already stressed food systems.

As it stands, our global food system is operating above capacity, while demand for calories continues to grow. As a result, tightened supplies have led to price increases in recent years, and long-term prices of cereals for 2008-2017 are forecast to be 50 percent above average nominal prices for the 2000-2007 period. With higher prices comes an increased pressure on food budgets, and increasingly large portions of the global population now live in a state of food insecurity.

America’s food waste problem is out-of-control affecting the globe. It also affects us right here at home, with 49 million Americans living in a state of food insecurity. A reduction in waste contributes immediately to available calories under current production parameters.

GOAL: We have a goal of decreasing food waste from 33% of total food produced to 17% of food produced by 2035.

And, meeting the goal can start with each one of us.

This Thanksgiving normally characterized by excess, take a recess from excess. Instead, take action to have a “Zero Waste Thanksgiving.” Here are nine tips how to do it:

  1. Only buy what you need. Buying in bulk only saves you money if you use the food before it goes bad.
  2. Choose recipes that “fit together.” Picking recipes that, for example, call for whole vegetables, entire containers of broth, etcetera to minimize waste.
  3. Grow and eat local. Eating locally sourced food, especially from urban farms reduces travel time for your food to reach you and reduces the incidence of food spoiling in transit.
  4. Plan ahead for “special” ingredients. For ingredients you do not normally use, think about how you will store, preserve, or use them in other recipes in advance.
  5. Don’t trash the scraps. Consider mashing potatoes with the skins on and saving turkey leftovers for stock.
  6. Save it for later. Encourage guests to take home rather than throw away what they do not finish. Provide reusable containers for leftovers.
  7. Encourage composting in your home and seek out other methods that seek to return biodegradable nutrients back to the soil, enriching the soil for food growth, rather than sending it to landfills. Don’t have compost at home? Search for a composter near you on findacomposter.com.
  8. Take excess unopened food to your local food bank.

Educate yourself. Get informed about buying habits, food storage, and composting to reduce food waste at How to Have A Zero Waste Feast and on the EPA website.

Sustainable America has the goal of cutting food waste in half: (33 percent waste cut to 17 percent by 2035). We do this by raising awareness around food waste issues, and also by helping the public, restaurants and grocery stores save money. Wasted food is wasted money. If you contribute, it can help make a difference, and turn our wasted food into fuel for our society by feeding the hungry, composting, and providing fuel to meet our energy needs.

These Thanksgiving tips are guaranteed to reduce your waste and save money. If you are grateful for the tips, please consider a donation of just $5 here: http://www.sustainableamerica.org/donate. It will cover the food waste of .00096th of a second. It’s a start — a start with you.

[Photo Credit: Satya Murthy on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

This post appeared on the LinkedIn page of Jeremy Kranowitz on November 26th, 2014 and can be viewed there by clicking here.