How Much Food Do Humans Waste?

This morning you may have discovered your milk was spoiled and tossed it in the garbage before trying to find something else to eat. Maybe you didn’t finish your whole breakfast and that went in the trash, too.

You’re not alone. An estimated 1/3 of the world’s food is wasted along the supply and consumption chain from farm to kitchen. How much does that add up to? A lot!

There are programs, however, that are helping to combat food waste and there are even a few steps you can take to help in your home as well.

How Much Food Do Humans Waste

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Worldwide Food Waste

  • 1/3 of food that’s grown and eaten around the globe is wasted
  • That equals 2.8 trillion pounds
  • This could feed 3 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population

46% of global fruits and vegetables never make it to the store because of imperfections.

Environmental Impact Of Wasted Food

Food in dumps generates methane gas. If global food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest generator of greenhouse gases in the world (behind China and the United States).

United States Food Waste

  • 30% of food in the U.S. is wasted – 133 billion pounds of food – valued at $162 billion annually
  • U.S. food retailers throw away 43 billion pounds of food per year
  • The average U.S. family of 4 trashes $1,484 worth of edible food each year

At the same time: 18 million households in the U.S. struggle to eat at some time during the year.

Programs Trying to Help

At the Country Level:

  • France has banned supermarkets from throwing away food. Instead they must donate or compost all expiring or unsold food.
  • Germany is reforming expiration dates. Many in the United States are urging for this kind of change as well.

In the United States:

  • Saving Food From Campuses: The Food Recovery Network focuses on university campus food waste. They enlist student volunteers to save food from dining halls that would be thrown out and shuttle them to nonprofits fighting hunger.
  • Marketing “Ugly” Food: Fruits and vegetables that are still good but have imperfections usually get thrown away. Many local stores have started selling these “ugly” foods at a discount instead of tossing them. Hungry Harvest takes those foods and markets them in a box subscription model.
  • Saving Food Retail Surplus: A company called MealConnect lets stores and restaurants post surplus meals and produce on its app. Local food bank workers can then pick it up and redistribute it to those in need.
    • Large companies such as Starbucks and Walmart have started participating.
  • USDA’s FoodKeeper App: The USDA has created an app to help solve the food waste problem in the U.S.
    • The app has great information on properly storing foods as well as cooking tips.
    • The app also allows you to keep track of when you purchased food and receive notifications when they are nearing the end of their recommended storage time so you can use them before they get wasted.

How YOU Can Cut Down on Food Waste

  • Don’t Take “Use by” or “Sell by” dates literally – An estimated 80% of Americans are wasting food because they take any date on foods literally. These dates are arbitrary and often picked by the manufacturer to assure sales. If stores have to throw away more yogurt, they will have to buy more to replace it. Examine your food before discarding. The majority of foods are good well past the “expiration dates.”
  • Plan Your Meals – If you go to the store without a meal plan, you may end up over-buying or purchasing food that may not be eaten before it spoils. Have a plan, make a list, and purchase enough for the week to avoid food spoilage.
  • Properly Store Your Food – Bacteria that causes illness is much less likely to grow on fresh produce kept cooler than 40 degrees Farenheit. Find out how to store fruits and vegetables properly online or from the FoodKeeper app. Bananas, apples, and tomatoes can produce gases as they ripen that make nearby produce spoil faster. Store these separately.
  • Take Home Your Restaurant Leftovers – Eat it for lunch the next day and avoid tossing a whole meal’s worth of food.
  • Be Creative With Leftovers – When produce is starting to wilt, figure out how to incorporate it into a meal or if it can be canned, frozen, or preserved.
  • Compost – If you don’t have a compost bin or compost pile, throw soft leftover foods in the blender and dump in your garden. This will save them from going to the dump and will help your new plants grow better as well.

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