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Americans Throw Out 40 Percent Of Their Food, Which Is Terrible For The Climate

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"Americans Throw Out 40 Percent Of Their Food, Which Is Terrible For The Climate"

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On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency announced their plan to tackle food waste in America, a problem that has grown by 50 percent since the 1970s. Today, as much as 40 percent of food produced in America is thrown away, amounting to 1,400 calories per person per day, $400 per person per year, and notably, 31 million tons of food added to landfills each year.

The USDA’s and EPA’s solution is a program called the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which invites food producers, retailers, consumers, nonprofits and government agencies to sign up and “list the activities they will undertake to help reduce, recover, or recycle food waste in the United States.” So far, General Mills, Unilever, and the Food Waste Reduction Alliance are among the program’s first participants.

As part of the program, the USDA is also addressing food waste in schools, updating nation-wide food loss estimates from retailers, pilot-testing a meat-composting program, and working to make it easier for companies to donate misbranded meat and poultry and imported produce that doesn’t meet the country’s strict quality standards instead of throwing it away. The agency will also be educating consumers about food waste and correct ways to store food — a lack of understanding that the Natural Resources Defense Council has cited as one of the major causes of food waste in America.

Throwing away food contributes directly to climate change — as EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe noted in a press release about the program, decomposing food releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times as effective at trapping atmospheric heat than carbon. According to the EPA, 17 percent of U.S. methane emissions come from landfills. But a high rate of wasted food also means a high rate of the energy that goes into food production — the water, fuel and farmland needed to grow crops and produce meat — is also wasted. It’s been estimated that 2 percent of all U.S. energy goes into food that American consumers and retailers are wasting.

The problem of food waste isn’t limited to the U.S., and as food insecurity grows around the world, the task of finding ways of solving it becomes more urgent. Worldwide, it’s estimated estimated that one-third to a half of all food is wasted — despite estimates that 870 million people are undernourished. Global populations are projected to reach up to 10.5 billion by 2050, putting strain on the world’s food system. And the effects of climate change — extreme weather, droughts, floods and pest outbreaks — could put 20 percent more people worldwide at risk of hunger by 2050, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program.

Many countries have already seen the effects climate change can have on food supplies: last year’s record-breaking drought decimated winter and summer wheat crops in the U.S. and Russia, and U.S. soybeans and corn were hit just as hard. In 2012, worldwide food consumption surpassed production for the sixth time in 11 years, and low crop yields caused food prices to spike.
Food Waste

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17 Responses to Americans Throw Out 40 Percent Of Their Food, Which Is Terrible For The Climate

  1. Foppe says:

    At least 40% of the stuff most ordinary Americans are forced to eat cannot remotely be classified “food”; You should be happy they throw it away, because that image where you see lots of lettuce, veggies and fruit being thrown away is sheer propaganda.

    • Rabid Doomsayer says:

      In many cases what is thrown out is better than what is served. The waste is huge and all through the system.

      Consumers have been trained to believe an apple that has been stored for a year, is better than a fresh but blemished one. They have been trained to trust a date stamp and not their eyes and touch.

      Dumpster divers know there is good food in those dumpsters.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Rabid, old dear, did you see that great documentary about gleaning? ‘The Gleaners and I’. Gleaning is a way to go. The obstacle, of course, is the coproate hierarchy and their political stooges, who hate, above all else, individual freedom, agency and activism amongst the serfs, who must remain obtunded and obedient, always. However, I did hear one coproate PR flak yesterday saying that one grocery chain was giving away food to food banks, and composting most of the rest (I forget if any was going to feed animals). It’s really amazing how easy rational policy is, once the pathopsychological barriers of generalised misanthropy and the drive to dominate are removed.

  2. Merrelyn Emery says:

    That 40% will come down rapidly as scarcity sets in, ME

  3. wade says:

    my family home composts for our garden and also is lucky enough to have city (portland, or) industrial composting that mixes yard debris with food waste. we eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies and cook all our of meals (except for occasional take out), as well as eat leftovers, and we still reduced our waste considerably with our composting options. with the composting, we changed our conventional trash pick up to once a month and ended up saving money, even with the composting service cost. and city composting is incredibly painless. AND, it feels so much better throwing waste into that bin instead of the regular garbage destined for a landfill. people out in the real world in most of the US have no sense of how valuable these services are or even why they might be needed. we believe there will always be more and there is no consciousness of the energy required to produce food and what happens on the other side of consumption, that is, waste. we do not see the economic or environmental cost.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Composting is so easy. You can even bury it direct into gardens beds, or use scraps to feed the chooks, or pigs if you have them. And compost tea, watered on the garden is like ambrosia for plants.

  4. Tim Peters says:

    Add that to the 40% of grains of maize burned in biofuels, and we have total eco-insanity.

    • Stephen W says:

      Those two together are obscene and aded to that, unless it’s already included in the figures for the article, is what people leave on their plates (speaking for the UK).

      The worst I saw was in a cheap Indian buffet “eat what you want for £5″ eatery in London. Even though people could choose exactly how much to put on their plates some people still left half of their plates covered in food.

      It’s probably because ‘food’ is simply another product in a shop like plastic toys, hideous nick-nacks and the like rather than something living that had to be produced by people working hard outside in all weathers. People producing real food that is, not the junk on so much of the shelves.

  5. Richard L says:

    I have a family member who works in a school cafeteria. The policy there is every child who purchases lunch MUST take a piece of fruit. Sounds good, but the kids do not eat it – almost every piece of fruit ends in the trash. A thoughtful worker who took some home (by trash picking) was told she couldn’t do so because someone might think she was stealing. My family member tasted the fruit (apples) and reported they were awful – bad taste and poor texture- basically the inedible product of our industrial food system. No wonder we have waste!

  6. Anne says:

    Editing needed in title: Americans plural, not American

  7. Joan Savage says:

    I’m a bit grumpy about the ‘factoid’ quality of the percentages given. Several references differ about that. 40% is not the mode, it is the top end of a range of 30-40%.

    One point that is unclear in the USDA-EPA press release is the amount of food waste before a product is retailed to consumers. They mention the erroneously labeled meat, but not the ruthless selections of ‘perfect’ fruits and veggies that leave piles behind, nor the compounding of food waste in discarding animal products that took a lot of food to produce.

    A diagram of the whole food situation, as of 1995, is available from the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems

    http://css.snre.umich.edu/css_doc/CSS01-06.pdf

    The FAO did a global analysis of food waste that includes more information about the kinds of food waste, and about more countries.

    http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/suistainability/pdf/Global_Food_Losses_and_Food_Waste.pdf

  8. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    There are much better ways to grow food than the way it’s done now. At our home we serve veg and fruit as the main course not as a side dish. We grow it, compost only and because we live in a dry area we use water by the drop not by the fire hose and still have more than we can eat, use or can. The extra goes to our area senior centers where they serve the meals for free. All that is grown is used, our 4 kinds of potatos come in all shapes and sizes, humps and bumps but the flavor is much better than the perfect looking stuff in the store. The amount of food thrown out because it does not meet the chain store perfect looking stock they require is a crime. They also do not allow any gleaning, if they throw it out it has to go to the dump. They won’t say why! All I got was NO you can’t have it for the homeless shelters or anything else not even compost. Oh my I just saw a comerical where they replaced the fruit and vegs at a Farmers Market with stuff from Wal-Mart and made it sound like it was so much better you really should buy it from them instead, are you kidding me??? My big thing is if vitamins and minerals have to be added to what your eating a change in your choices is called for.

  9. SecularAnimist says:

    When you consider that about 80-90 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the USA are used as livestock feed to mass produce cheap, factory-farmed meat — with a resulting LOSS of up to 90 percent of the original protein content — we are throwing away a lot more than 40 percent of our food.

  10. What I don’t understand is how 40% of food thrown away amounts to only $400 a year per person. I certainly spend a lot more than $1000 on food a year! That’s $20 a week…maybe if you eat nothing but beans, rice and peanut butter, but that’s not the American diet.