Americans waste approximately 40% of the food produced in the US. Let’s just think about this staggering statistic for a minute. 40% of all the food grown in the US never makes it into a human’s stomach. This uneaten food literally ends up rotting in landfills. Even more concerning is this figure seems to only be growing over time. Additionally, during the food’s journey from the field to your dinner-plate (if it makes it that far) it has consumed a substantial amount of our precious natural resources including energy and water. Let’s break it down.
Where in the supply-chain is food being wasted?
We’ve all opened our refrigerator looking for a snack and been greeted with that not-so-pleasant odor indicating something has spoiled. We’ve sniffed around trying to locate the culprit and through that journey discovered several other items that have passed their prime. By the end, we’ve thrown out half the food that was in there! I can be honest and admit to you that this has happened to me on more than one occasion. In fact, the average American throws away 20 pounds of food each month! That means a family of four buys 960 pounds of food a year that goes uneaten.
But even if consumers were better about only buying what they actually eat, a lot of food is tossed before it ever makes it to your home. The wasting begins all the way back in the fields where farmers are unlikely to harvest crops that they think won’t sell (i.e. crops that don’t look that great). The wasting continues during transport where some of the produce is damaged. Then, at the store, the produce that is a little too ripe, a tad wilted, or otherwise imperfect is often overlooked by the consumer. The store ends up throwing out whatever is left. To think after all that, the food that does make it to your home still has a good chance of being tossed out before realizing its purpose. This wasted food translates to approximately $2,275 per year for a family of four. The food waste in the entire US ends up totaling $165 billion annually.
How much energy and water are we wasting?
The energy embedded in wasted food in 2007 was estimated at 2030 Trillion BTU. Additionally, since 80% of the freshwater goes to food production that means 32% of the consumed freshwater annually goes to making food that no one will eat. Imagine what we could do with all that energy and water if we as a country did a better job growing and buying only what we actually would eat. Now that’s food for thought.
(photo credit: PBS)