The Problem of Food Waste

Global food waste is a far-reaching problem with tremendous financial, ethical and environmental costs. America wastes roughly 40 percent of its food. Of the estimated 125 to 160 billion pounds of food that goes to waste every year, much of it is perfectly edible and nutritious. While we are comfortably throwing out our food, there are approximately 700 million people who go hungry every day. Food waste is also a burden to our planet because there is excess production that leads to excess consumption. If the balance between consumption and production is adjusted correctly, we can overcome the problem of food waste and other leading problems.

What is wasted food?

There are two main kinds of wasted food: food loss and food waste. They are commonly used terms but do not quite mean the same thing. Food loss is the bigger category, and incorporates any edible food that goes uneaten at any stage. In addition to food that’s uneaten in homes and stores, this includes crops left in the field, food that spoils in transportation, and all other food that doesn’t make it to a store. Some amount of food is lost at nearly every stage of food production. Food waste is a specific piece of food loss, which the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), defines as “food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance and plate waste by consumers.” Food waste includes the half-eaten meal left on the plate at a restaurant, food scraps from preparing a meal at home and the sour milk a family pours down the drain. 

Why is food wasted?

It is exactly this abundance that contributes to food waste in industrialized countries. ReFed estimates that 24% of all foods in the US (54 million tons) goes to waste. Consumer habits hold much of the blame, but food waste occurs all along the latter half of the supply chain with distributors, retailers and restaurants as well. All-you-can-eat buffets and buy-one-get-one deals encourage people to buy more than they can eat, and disposable income means they can afford to waste the leftovers. Supermarkets refuse to stock produce that is odd-looking but otherwise perfectly edible. Besides restaurants, households are also responsible for the global food waste. Indeed, households are responsible for the largest portion of all food waste. According to ReFED, US households waste 76 billion pounds of food each year. 

What does food waste causes?

Firstly, one in six Americans – many of them children – are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to sufficient, affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. And because of the impact of COVID-19, the number of people struggling with food insecurity grew in 2020 to more than 50 million, according to Feeding America. A significant portion of food waste is perfectly edible and could go to help those in need. Secondly, food waste has a major economic impact. Surplus food cost the country $408 billion. Of this, 70% – $285 billion – was due to food waste. This huge amount of money can be well spent in different areas such as healthcare and education. Lastly, in landfills, food gradually breaks down to form methane, a greenhouse gas that’s up to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.In addition, food waste is responsible for more than 25 percent of all the freshwater consumption in the US each year, and is among the leading causes of fresh water pollution.

What can we do?

  • Shop smart
  • Store food correctly
  • Save leftover
  • Be mindful about your portion size
  • Understand expiration dates
  • Don’t toss the grounds
  • Pack your meals

In conclusion, there are many ways to reduce food waste with recycling and reusing. With reducing our food waste, we can not only aid the planet, but also we can contribute to the global economy and help people living under the poverty line.

CITATIONS

“Food Practice.” WWF, wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/food_practice/?gclid=CjwKCAjwlrqHBhByEiwAnLmYUNAZvsVl11k4UPvNmnVxryfqehNP8xKriM7I0kGcBTaIKMWLPHCsjBoCrCYQAvD_BwE. Accessed 14 July 2021.

“Food Waste Challenge.” ReFED, refed.com/food-waste/the-challenge. Accessed 14 July 2021.

“Food Waste Is a Massive Problem—Here’s Why.” FoodPrint, 11 June 2021, foodprint.org/issues/the-problem-of-food-waste.

“Global Food Waste and Its Environmental Impact | Green Living.” RESET.To, en.reset.org/knowledge/global-food-waste-and-its-environmental-impact-09122018. Accessed 14 July 2021.

Kubala, Jillian M. “20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste.” Healthline, 20 Nov. 2017, http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reduce-food-waste#TOC_TITLE_HDR_21.

https://www.whittierdailynews.com/2018/02/20/heres-how-food-waste-at-uci-some-supermarkets-is-being-converted-into-electricity/

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