Dec 4, 2022 - Economy

America’s staggering food waste problem

Illustration of salad ingredients forming a frowny face on a plate.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

America wastes more than 100 billion pounds — or 40% — of its food each year.

Why it matters: We often toss food without thinking, but the waste has stakes for the environment, global food insecurity and for our wallets.

  • The biggest share of food waste doesn't come from barges, grocery stores or restaurants, but from consumers' own kitchens.
  • The food we waste globally accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest contributor to climate change after the U.S. and China, The Guardian reports.
  • Around 10% — or 13.5 million — of U.S. households experienced food insecurity in 2021, but food that could be donated to those in need is being wasted.
  • And the average American family spends nearly $1900 a year on food they don't eat, per one paper in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

"Our food system pushes us to waste," says Roni Neff, an expert in food system sustainability at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

  • Large portions on store shelves lead us to buy more than we need, and inconsistent policies around date labels might cause us to toss food that's still safe and good to eat. A national policy on date-labeling could be one of the cheapest ways to save more food, says Neff.
  • "Preventing food waste doesn’t rise to the top of most people’s list of priorities.  While most of us really dislike throwing out food, we forget, we change our plans, we choose not to eat foods we don’t want, we take the path of convenience," she says.

What to watch: A slew of startups are trying to tackle this worsening problem, Kimberly Chin and Megan Hernbroth report in Axios Pro.

  • Misfits Market sells "ugly," misshapen produce that might have otherwise been trashed for a cheaper price.
  • Afresh and Choco make tech to help grocers and restaurants better manage inventory.
  • Apeel Sciences used plant-based materials to mimic the natural coating on lemons that keeps them fresher, longer. That colorless, tasteless coating can be used on other produce, like avocados and apples, to increase their shelf-life too.

How you can help: Pay attention while you shop so you don't over-purchase, plan meals and freeze leftovers, and figure out if you can compost your scraps, the National Resources Defense Council recommends.

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