Why food waste is a major issue in the United States
By: Lindsey Becker – 2021 Summer Intern
Up to 40% of food in the United States goes to waste each year. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that supermarkets alone generate 43 billion pounds of food waste each year and lose $15 billion annually in unsold fruit and vegetables. The annual estimated cost of wasted food in the United States is $218 billion.
Massive amounts of resources and energy go into growing, processing and transporting all of this wasted food. This includes greenhouse gas emissions, water, fertilizer, packaging, and labor. In fact, food waste is the number one contributor to landfills in the United States today. Food that ends up in landfills and then rots generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It also generates nitrogen, which causes algae blooms and dead zones in the surrounding environment.
Food waste is responsible for more than 25% of freshwater consumption in the United States each year and is among the leading causes of freshwater pollution.
Despite the United States’ recognition of an individual’s right to food under Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 12.3% of Americans are considered food insecure and 1 in 8 Americans struggle to put food on the table. Reducing food waste by just 15% could provide enough sustenance to feed more than 25 million Americans annually. How then can companies, organizations, and individuals make a difference in the reduction of food waste?
On Oct. 1, 1996, the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was signed by President Bill Clinton. This act is meant to encourage companies and organizations to donate food and grocery products to non-profit organizations for distribution to individuals in need. The act protects donors from liability when donating to a non-profit organization and protects donors from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient. If more companies and organizations participated in the donation of unused foods, food waste across the United States would be significantly reduced and many Americans in need of food assistance would have their needs better met.
On an individual level, going to the grocery store with a pre-determined list and meal plan for the week is just one of many ways to avoid contributing to food waste. Other examples include avoiding buying in bulk, learning how to properly store fruits and vegetables, freezing leftover foods for later consumption, and understanding the difference between “sell-by”, “use-by”, “best-by”, and expiration dates.
Lindsey Becker wroter this opinion piece while interning with the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg and the PA Media Group. It was published here.
Lindsey is currently a graduate student at Penn State University where she is pursuing a Masters in International Affairs with a concentration in African Development. Lindsey graduated from Kutztown University with a BA in anthropology and minors in international studies, history, and Pennsylvania German studies. Before beginning her studies as a graduate student, Lindsey served one year as a rural aquaculture promotion volunteer with the Peace Corps in Chinsali, Zambia. She was awarded the David and Charlotte Valuska Scholarship in 2018 and is the current recipient of the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.