Food Waste in America: Statistics, Causes and Solutions

Food waste in America has reached a whole new level and at this point, reading the statistics boggles the mind. According to a recent report released by the Guardian, almost 50 percent of all produce in the United States is simply thrown in the garbage and then into landfills.

This represents roughly 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce each year, an amount that adds up to one third of all foodstuff in the nation. The Environmental Protection Agency has also added that most American landfills are filled to the brim with wasted food.



Worldwide Food Waste Statistics

Let’s start with some facts about food waste around the world.

  • Industrialized countries waste almost as much food each year as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons).
  • In 2009, a report showed the amount of food wasted annually is equal to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crops (2.3 billion tons).
  • Lost or wasted food on a global level adds to an amount valued at nearly $3 trillion.
  • Fruits and vegetables, tubers and roots are most likely to be wasted and end up in the world’s landfills.

Food waste in America: Facts

While worldwide food waste puts a great strain on our environment, and North America is one of the largest culprits in the matter.

  • In the USA, organic waste has the second highest wastage rate.
  • Somewhere between 30-40 percent of the food that grows, gets processed and transported in the U.S. ends up wasted, which amounts to over 20 pounds of food per person per week.
  • An American family of four ends up discarding produce worth of $1,600 annually.
  • Disposing of food in a landfill to rot is a leading source of toxic methane, which encourages global warming.
 NRDC Report

NRDC Report

Causes of Food Waste in America

Given the food waste problem America is currently dealing with, let’s look at some of the causes that put the nation on the top of the food-wasting list.

Cheap food

Buying food is way cheaper in the United States than almost anywhere else globally. Finding more and more subsidies to milk, wheat, and corn also helps bring down food prices. Therefore, it’s cheaper to produce it, and cheaper to buy it, which leads to unhealthy buying practices.

Unrealistic Cosmetic Standards

The fact that America squanders tons of produce per minute is also a matter of cultural dynamic. Over the past few decades, consumers and producers have started to take part in a national obsession with how food looks.

The problem doesn’t lie exclusively with shoppers who refuse to buy fruit and vegetables that are less-than-perfect looking. More often than not, grocers themselves refuse to stock their shelves with bruised, oxidize, or discolored produce.

According to a report of The Guardian, which quotes workers and experts in the food system, “Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.”


This national obsession then led to the era of foodie-ism we live in, where Instagram food accounts are the most popular. Pete Wells, a writer for The Times, even coined a phrase to describe this phenomenon: “camera cuisine.” Restaurant patrons seem to be more interested in the way their food looks than tastes.

Potential Solutions

Given the multiple causes to food waste in America, it’s only natural that the solutions be multiple, too. There are two approaches to this issue: individual and governmental.

Governmental Involvement

In 2015, the Obama administration announced that one of the sustainable goals for 2030 is to halve the more than two million calories that Americans waste annually. A private-public campaign, this project is meant to focus on improving recycling, decoding food labels, and find hunger in the nation. In spite of the massive food waste, one in 6 Americans do not have enough food to eat.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Following these three ‘Rs’ is not only fairly easy, but it also helps you reduce your food waste. It’s all in the planning, and storing the food you purchase for your household. Get maximum freshness for your fruit and vegetables by storing them properly. The longer they last, the less tempted you’ll be to throw them away.

At the same time, there are food banks where you can donate the food that you don’t need anymore, provided that it’s nutritious, safe, and untouched.



Food Waste Policies around the Globe

Public education and policy implementation is well underway elsewhere in the world. In France, for example, supermarkets have been banned from throwing away food. Instead, they’re encouraged to compost or donate expiring or unsold food. In Germany, the issue has been tackled by reforming expiration dates, which many researchers claim are not only problematic, but also often arbitrary.

What motivates people to reduce food waste?

Saving money is by far the highest incentive for people to reduce their household’s food waste. As public awareness rises, more people realize the overall staggering costs involved in food waste, both on a personal and a national level.

Reducing the environmental impact is not as important to people; yet. However, agencies around the world are fighting to remind people about the harmful way we treat our limited resources.

Watch this short documentary below to gain a more profound understanding of the dangers of food waste in America.

Wrapping It Up

Food waste in America will continue to be a problem for many decades if something doesn’t change. While the government must do its part, the population must, too. The most needed changes are on a cultural level. People need to learn to appreciate biodiversity, ugly fruits and veggies, and local producers more.

We can make technology our ally in reducing food waste. How neat would it be if we could use Instagram to share recipes for meals made of food scrap stock? What if we had smartphone apps that allowed us to share extra produce with neighbors or food banks?

We can do more, America.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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