While about 40 million Americans are considered food insecure (they may not know where their next meal will come from), a large amount of food goes to waste in our country.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply (anything grown, processed or transported in the U.S.) is wasted -- and much of that is food that could have been used to fill hungry stomachs all over the country.
That waste accounts for approximately 40 million tons of food that ends up in the trash, and thus, landfills. The USDA also reports that more food hits U.S. landfills than any other type of municipal solid waste.
Feed the Children reports that globally, 1.3 billion tons, or a third of the food produced, is wasted. That's enough to feed about 821 million people who suffer from hunger globally.
The need to reduce food waste in the U.S. has never been greater.
The USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced a new partnership with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, the latest effort in the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative launched by the three federal agencies in 2018.
According to a news release, "Through this Memo of Understanding, USDA, EPA and FDA will formalize industry education and outreach efforts with The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association, the three founding partners of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA). The FWRA represents three major sectors of the supply chain: food manufacturing, retail and restaurant and food service. The Alliance pursues three goals: reducing the amount of food waste generated, increasing the amount of safe, nutritious food donated to those in need and diverting food waste from landfills."
Besides feeding people in need, reducing food waste has social, economic and environmental benefits. According to the FWRA:
• "Some of the food waste generated in the U.S. is actually not waste at all, as it is safe to eat and nutritious. In these instances, the food can be donated to food banks and other anti-hunger organizations, keeping it out of landfills while helping those in need."
• "When food waste decomposes in a landfill, it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In fact, landfills are responsible for one-third of all methane emissions in the United States. Keeping food waste out of landfills will result in reduced methane emissions. Also, growing food requires many resources, including water and energy. Wasted food is a waste of the resources used to grow it."
• "Reducing the volume of food wasted in food manufacturing, retailing and foodservice operations means reducing the overall costs of these operations."
When we consider how much food is wasted, it amounts to about 20 pounds of food per person per month. Americans are throwing out about $165 billion in food each year.
There are numerous ways we can make small changes to reduce our own food waste.
Be aware of how much food you throw away. Try leaving a notebook in your kitchen to document what food you are tossing out. This will allow you to be cognizant of how much extra food your family is wasting each day.
Using that information, you can better plan for shopping trips. When shopping, consider how much food is being wasted and purchase just the right amount for your family.
One way to make this easier is to plan meals and use detailed shopping lists at the grocery store.
Plan carefully when buying perishable foods. Consider how quickly you will use the items -- like produce, bread and dairy products. Only buy these items when they are needed, since they have a limited shelf life.
When eating out, be more mindful of your meal choices. Request smaller portions and order only what you will be able to eat. Bring leftovers home, refrigerate them and eat them for lunch or dinner the following day.
Freezing is a great way to preserve extra food. If you know you won't be using the leftovers in the next few days, carefully package the food and freeze it for another time. Food lasts longer in the freezer than the fridge.
Check your fridge and freezer often for foods that need to be used and try to work you meal planning around those items. Do you have leftovers you can pack for lunch this week so they won't be tossed out? Can you use the milk or cheese that is near its expiration date before it goes bad?
Don't let your fridge or freezer become too full. Keeping a neat and clean fridge and freezer will make it easier to see what food you have and what needs to be used. Overpacked fridges and freezers lead to more waste.
Expiration, sell-by, best-by and use-by dates are guidelines. They typically identify food quality, not safety. Trust your own senses about food safety and quality.
Donate extra food to food banks and homeless shelters. Look into what organizations will take your leftovers or extras. Most importantly, make sure you are donating quality, safe, unexpired food.
If you're feeling particularly strong about reducing waste, consider composting. Instead of discarding unused food, some foods can be composted and turned into nutrient-rich fertilizer. This step would be particularly beneficial for gardeners and farmers, but anyone can compost with a little research.
These are just a few steps each of us can take to reduce our food waste.
It's essential that we start being more aware of our own habits and how we can contribute to reducing waste, making sure food gets to those in need and helping our environment in the process.