Most of us know that food waste is a problem, but you may not realize just how prevalent the issue has become in modern societies throughout the world.
In fact, food waste in America is estimated to be between 30-40 percent of the food supply. It’s the equivalent of filling five bags with food items at the grocery store, and then throwing two right in the garbage when you get home. Fortunately, in recent years, there has been growing awareness of just how much food is being tossed, with an increase in federal government efforts to prevent food waste.
Research finds that consumers themselves are the largest generators of food waste, and there are a number of small actions that each of us can take to reduce food waste in our households. Check out six surprising food waste facts below, and learn about some ways that you can help curb the food waste problem.
1. Americans throw out more than 1,250 calories per day per person.
The U.S. tosses more than 400 pounds of food per person annually, and confusing food labels are partly to blame. One study found that 37 percent of people routinely discard food near the date listed on their food items.
One way to reduce food waste is to better understand what the dates on food labels really mean. Getting a better grasp on label terminology will help ensure that you aren’t throwing perfectly good food into the trash. For instance, use-by dates indicate peak freshness, not necessarily when it’s no longer safe to eat a food item. Check out our food education article to learn more about the key food dating phrases.
2. Food is the No. 1 thing in America’s landfills.
Sadly, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash. It’s estimated that 22 percent of discarded municipal solid waste is food. One way that you can help reduce the problem is to get creative with leftovers and food scraps. Here are a few ideas to get you started with making the most of unused food:
- Make bread crumbs with stale bread.
- Use chicken bones to make broth.
- Cook a big batch of veggies soon after you buy them to use in different dishes, such as salad, pasta, or a quiche.
3. Nearly half of fruits and vegetables get thrown out.
It’s estimated that 48 percent of produce is tossed out, but there are a number of simple things that we can do to reduce such drastic levels of fresh food waste. You can access reliable guidance on how to properly store specific foods by downloading an app such as Harvest, or asking a smart speaker such as Alexa if you have one. Here are some produce storage tips:
- Leftover cooked beans should be stored in water or their cooking liquid in an airtight container.
- Many fruits and vegetables, including broccoli and artichokes, should be washed only right before you use them.
- Avocados will ripen faster in a paper bag on the countertop.
- Store tomatoes at room temperature on the counter. To ripen, keep them in a paper bag.
Looking to make the most of your grocery budget? Check out our list of the most affordable fruits and vegetables.
4. The average family of four loses $1,800 a year in wasted food.
Wasted food costs Americans big bucks—but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are a few ways that you can reduce the amount of money you waste on tossed-out food:
Make a weekly meal plan that details how you will use all of the perishable food that you purchase.
Planning out a few ways to use one type of food will help you use it all up instead of letting leftovers sit in the fridge untouched. For instance, if you nab a couple of bell peppers on sale and cook dinner only for yourself and your significant other, plan to use them in veggie quesadillas one night and a stir-fry a few nights later.
Not big into meal planning? Ditch the weekly plan and carve quick grocery store runs into your schedule a few times a week.
This way, you’d need to think about only a few meals at a time and can buy only what you need for those meals.
Use a grocery delivery service.
There are countless delivery options, including Amazon Prime, Instacart, and Peapod, that enable users to order produce as needed.
5. Businesses discard more than $15 billion of edible produce every year.
Consumers' shunning of less-than-perfect or abnormal-looking fruits and veggies has played a key role in contributing to global food waste. “Ugly” but perfectly edible produce is shunned at every stage of the food supply chain, and research shows that when abnormal-looking produce actually makes it to the shelves at grocery stores, consumers tend to leave it behind and put a premium on more attractive-looking produce.
You can help reduce this problem by picking imperfect-looking yet perfectly edible produce at the store, or by buying produce from services such as Misfits Market or Imperfect Foods—which sell “ugly” produce for more affordable prices than seen at many grocery stores.
6. Half of all seafood gets thrown away.
Sadly, it’s estimated that 50% of all seafood gets tossed out. Here are some ways that you can make sure you aren’t contributing to America’s excessive seafood waste:
- Choose to buy fresh seafood only when you know you’re going to use it within two days.
- Buy frozen seafood, which can usually be safely stored for six months.
- Find go-to ways to use up leftovers and cook any seafood that will go bad soon. Here are five recipe ideas:
Although these food waste facts can be disheartening to hear, we’re headed in the right direction: For example, food relief organizations are working to fight food waste with food rescue, and the Feeding America network rescues billions of pounds of food annually. And from a governmental standpoint, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has joined with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.
Each of us has the power to make an impact by reducing food waste in our households. In addition to following our ideas above, check out our Food Dating Guide for tips on how to make your food last longer.