According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away nearly 40% of their food each year, exacerbating hunger, adding to landfills and costing millions.
The 40% figure is the driving force behind a new USDA-EPA program calling on producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities and government agencies to limit the amount of food that is thrown away.
"The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Not only could this food be going to folks who need it – we also have an opportunity to reduce the amount of food that ends up in America's landfills."
Through the program, the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA pledged to reduce waste in the school meals program, educate consumers about food waste and food storage, and develop new technologies to reduce food waste.
USDA said it would also work with industry donate imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.
Additionally, Vilsack said USDA would be using social media to develop a food storage application and better inform consumers of the meanings of sell-by and use-by dates.
EPA's Food Recovery Challenge operates on a hierarchy of most preferred to least preferred methods of food disposal.
EPA will participate via its Food Recovery Challenge, a program first started in 2010, by providing direct technical assistance, a tracking system, and recognition to help support and motivate organizations to reduce their food waste.
Through the act of measuring food that is wasted, organizations can immediately identify simple changes that lead to big reductions, EPA says.
More than 200 organizations are now participating in the Food Recovery Challenge.
Food waste is more than a cost issue
In 2001, the USDA estimated that 133 billion pounds of food from retail stores, restaurants and homes was never eaten. Those leftovers were valued at almost $390 per U.S. consumer in 2008, more than the average monthly grocery bill.
But when food goes uneaten, it can cost Americans more than just what they paid for it.
"Food waste the single largest type of waste entering our landfills," said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. Addressing the food waste issue, he says, would not only help combat hunger and save dollars, it would also put a dent in climate change.
"Food waste in landfills decomposes to create potent greenhouse gases and by reducing this waste we can in turn reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Perciasepe explained.
Americans send more food to landfills and incinerators than any other single municipal solid waste – 35 million tons– even more than paper and plastic. When wasted food is sent to landfills, it decomposes and becomes a source of methane, EPA says, which can hurt the environment.
In addition, throwing away uneaten food results in lost energy that was used to produce or transport the food.
"One hundred and thirty-three billion pounds of food (per year) is produced. A lot of hard work goes into producing it, to growing it, to processing it, to raising it, and then it's wasted," Vilsack said.
News sources: USDA, EPA