National Consumers League

Americans toss 40 percent of food produced, while 50 million go hungry; New report raises concerns about food waste in U.S.

October 24, 2014

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League, benk@nclnet.org, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC- A new report published to coincide with Food Day reveals that America is one of the worst food waste offenders, tossing 35 million tons of food each year, and offers solutions for retailers and consumers. Released by the National Consumers League, the report finds that, worldwide, a quarter to a third of all food goes to waste, and in America, the figures are more stark: 40 percent of our food remains uneaten, and the numbers are trending upwards.

“We hope this report sounds the alarm. America needs to grapple with this issue and begin to take steps to change the national mindset on food and food waste. Like the United Kingdom, which has embarked on a national strategy to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2020, Americans need to be mindful of our buying and consuming habits. We are throwing away 40 percent of the food we produce, while nearly 50 million Americans struggle to put food on the table,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “It is a shame that we as American consumers waste so much food while millions of families are food insecure. It’s a disconnect that needs to be addressed. ”

NCL’s new report, Wasted: Solutions to the American Food Waste Problem, is an examination of the financial, ethical, and environmental concerns associated with food waste, and offers solutions to address the challenge. The report highlights how certain retailer practices encourage consumers’ overbuying and highlights the crucial role industry, environmental, and consumer groups working together could play in reducing food waste and decreasing its substantial environmental and landfill consequences.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans threw out 35 million tons of food in 2012, 50 percent more than in 1990. American families toss out an estimated 25 percent of the food they purchase, costing between $1,350 and $2,275 for a family of four each year. At the same time in the United States, 14 percent of households struggle to put food on the table. Raising consciousness about the importance of food as a commodity could lead to more responsible habits, according to the consumer advocacy group.

“Food waste has ethical, financial, and environmental implications. Wasting food, when one in nine people on earth suffers from chronic hunger, is wrong,” said Kelsey Albright, NCL food policy fellow and the lead author of the report. “As Americans’ relationship with food trends further from the farm and closer to the grocery store isles, knowledge about origin, preparation, and storage is lost, and our appreciation of food and incentives to conserve this precious resource have diminished.”

NCL’s Food Waste report demonstrates that many consumers are aware wasting food is a problem, but consistently underestimate their contribution to it. Few people realize the environmental effects of growing, transporting, and ultimately throwing out food. The amount of oil needed to feed each person every year is 400 gallons. Additional oil is used when transporting uneaten food as trash. When food begins decomposing in garbage dumps, methane, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States, is released.  

“While there is waste at every stage in the American supply chain, the good news is that consumers are responsible for the largest percentage of food waste, and they have the power to make a difference,” said Greenberg. “Our report emphasizes consumers’ need for information about food storage and expiration dates and encourages retailers to promote better consumer choices.”

TIPS FOR CONSUMERS TO REDUCE WASTE

  1. Plan out meals in advance and use a list when grocery shopping to prevent overbuying.  Always inventory the fridge and pantry before heading to the grocery store.
  2. Properly store and preserve food, preparing or freezing what can’t be used before it goes bad. Learn classic preservation methods like canning and drying produce.
  3. Know how to properly read and interpret expiration/sell-by and use-by dates. Rely on senses to determine whether food has spoiled or is still edible.
  4. Make smaller portions for dinner at home and always take home – and actually eat –leftovers from restaurants.
  5. Get creative and repurpose foods that may go bad soon. For example, stale bread can be turned into croutons and breadcrumbs; apples into applesauce or baked goods.
  6. Compost scraps of food that cannot be eaten.

“This report outlines why addressing food waste should be the next big environmental movement in this country," said Elizabeth Bennett, the founder of Fruitcycle, a social enterprise that makes healthy snacks from fruit that would otherwise go to waste. "The massive scope of the issue means that there is tremendous opportunity for consumers, farmers, retailers, and other businesses to work together to create solutions."

NCL’s report was released in conjunction with Food Day, a nationwide celebration for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.

To read the new report, visit nclnet.org/foodwaste.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.