Cut Food Waste in Half by 2030

U.S. fights food waste with national initiative

One slice of pizza in box
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A third of the food produced in the United States is never consumed; that’s about 133 billion pounds, while at least 49 million Americans are food insecure. 

On September 16th, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture  (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the nation’s first initiative to reduce food waste. The Obama administration set a goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.

To halve food waste, USDA and EPA are partnering with charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector, and local governments to streamline waste reduction efforts.

“The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “An average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1500, uneaten each year. Our new reduction goal demonstrates America's leadership on a global level in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste.”’

Households aren’t the only targeted area for reducing food waste. Before food is even purchased, losses occur due to improper handling, quality deterioration during transport, and inadequate infrastructure for cooling and storage.

Fruit and vegetables losses during this stage have been estimated at 2-20 percent in developed countries such as the U.S. High levels of waste result in higher prices for the final product, which could contribute to lower consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The retail level is also responsible for rejecting shipments of edible food that doesn’t meet visual or size standards.

2011 report estimated 20 percent of initial food production is lost from products not meeting grading requirements in North America, Europe, Oceania, and Latin America. Fortunately, consumers are supermarkets around the world are changing these standards to accept ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables and prevent food waste.

By working with food service companies, institutions, restaurants, and grocery stores to set aggressive goals, the USDA and EPA hope to create initial momentum for the campaign, setting the stage for the ambitious goal of cutting waste in half by 2030. Leading the way are organizations such as the Consumer Goods Forum, which recently resolved to halve food waste within its 400 retailer and manufacturers members by 2025.

These new efforts by USDA and EPA build upon past initiatives by federal agencies to address food waste at the national level. The U.S. Food Waste Challenge, for example, created a platform for leaders and organizations to share best practices on ways to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste at all stages of the food chain. The initiative reached 4,000 active participants by the end of 2014, far surpassing its goal of involving 1,000 participants by 2020.

Many advocacy organizations, anti-hunger coalitions, and food sustainability campaigns have been working to create awareness of the magnitude of food waste nationwide. And these efforts are part of a larger, worldwide movement to reduce food waste. The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) hopes to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2020 through the Milan Protocol. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization works to quantify the global costs of food waste to create momentum for food waste reduction initiatives.

“Today is a historic day for anyone who eats,” said Dana Gunders, Staff Scientist at the National Resource Defense Council.

“Wasted food is wasted money, wasted water, wasted land and wasted energy. America is taking solid action to keep more food on our plates.” These actions rolling out a food waste education tool through the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s website.

Reducing food waste not only saves American resources, but also contributes to a more sustainable future. "Let's feed people, not landfills. By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources, and protect our planet for future generations"said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "Today's announcement presents a major environmental, social and public health opportunity for the U.S., and we're proud to be part of a national effort to reduce the food that goes into landfills."

According to the USDA, these landfills are the third largest source of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — in the U.S. Food loss is the single largest component of municipal solid waste, acting as a significant contributor to these emissions. Worldwide, food waste prevention, reduction, and management are reflected in international work leading up to the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 21) to take place in December of 2015.

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