Food gets wasted every day in one way or another. Maybe there’s just too much on a plate for one to finish, so it gets thrown in the trash. Or leftovers that have gone uneaten rot and need to be disposed of. Whatever the cause, food waste is a serious problem affecting our planet. Read on to learn some eye-opening facts and statistics about food waste in America.

Just How Much Food Waste is There?

A ton of food is wasted each year. A ton as in, a whole lot, not literally a ton. In fact, over 80 billion pounds is wasted each year (40 million tons). And that is just in the United States alone, although we are also the highest contributor to food waste globally.

Food waste in America is a serious issue, as this waste continues to be the single largest contributor to what takes up space in landfills.

What Does this Number Mean to me?

The average person wastes over 219 pounds of food each year. The average person only eats roughly 2,000 pounds per year, so over 10% of your plate of food is wasted at each meal. That waste also equates to over $400 worth of food that gets tossed in the trash per person.

Food waste

The Biggest Contributor to Food Waste

With that much food ending up in landfills, you may be curious as to how it all ends up there. Afterall, 200 pounds is a lot of food to scrape off of your plate. However, the biggest contributor of food waste never makes it to your plate. Due to misreading expiration labels, over 80% of Americans throw away perfectly good food.

The labels differ between ‘sell by’, ‘use by’, ‘best by’, and more, making it difficult to perceive whether the item is actually spoiled or not. This confusion causes the average consumer to throw away the item for fear of receiving a foodborne illness while eating it.

Just How Much Food Waste is There?

What is Being Done to Stop Food Waste?

Although we have a long way to go, large strides have been made in an effort to reduce food waste in America, including:

  • Several states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont) have passed laws restricting the amount of food waste that can be sent to landfills, and Vermont is working to ban food scraps in landfills altogether by 2021.

  • California, Colorado, and Massachusetts are working to establish composting and organic collection programs, and continued education and infrastructure improvements are being made to educate consumers on how we can continue to prevent food waste.

  • New York City has expanded rules that force food-based businesses to separate scraps from other waste in an effort to remove more waste from landfills.

  • Maine and Rhode Island have passed legislation that is helping to reduce overall food waste in their schools.

  • The US Department Of Agriculture (USDA) and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have banded together to try and reduce national food waste by half by the year 2030.

Many governments, agencies, and even schools are working together to reduce our food waste problem. But, how can you help?

Just How Much Food Waste is There?

How You Can Help

There are many ways that we as consumers can reduce food waste and keep waste out of landfills. By utilizing the tips below we can start to chip away at the average of 219 pounds per year, and learn to utilize any food scraps that we do have leftover. Some tips for reducing/reusing food waste include:

  • Fully understand expiration labels: there are two main labels to focus on that will help you to ensure you are still eating fresh foods. They are

    • “Best if used by”: this describes food that is safe to consume past the date, but taste and/or performance may differ slightly.

    • “Use by”: these products are perishable and should be consumed before the date. Food safety becomes a concern past the expiration date.

  • Plan your meals: impulsively shopping for food can cause you to add some additional items to your cart that you might second guess later on. Plan out your meals and stick to your shopping list to prevent having too much.

  • Freeze food: utilize the “use or freeze by” dates of items such as meats if you don’t plan to cook them right away.

  • Donate food: if you happen to have items you won’t be needing or a sizable amount of leftovers, donate them to the nearest shelter or food pantry.

  • Blemishes on fruits & veggies are okay: although they may not look as ripe as when you first purchased them, a lot of times fruits and vegetables will taste just the same even if they’ve aged a little.

  • Take on composting: if you still have leftovers that need to be thrown out, learn how to compost!

Reduce Food Waste

Using the items above, we can work as a community to continue to reduce and even prevent food waste. Leftovers can be donated or used for compost, food can be frozen, and expirations can help us to use food while it’s still fresh. Governments are starting to do their part, and we can work to help meet the USDA and EPA’s goal of reducing waste by half by 2030, one scrap of food at a time.