USDA, EPA Join to Reduce US Food Waste

We Throw Away Enough to Feed 25 Million Peoplec

Food Waste in America
New Study Shows That Half Of World's Food Is Wasted. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Food waste in the United States has reached a point where Americans are throwing away about 31% -- or 133 billion pounds – of our available food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

That’s a crying shame, but the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are teaming up in an effort to cut U.S. food waste in half by 2030.

To do that, the USDA and EPA will lead a partnership made up of charitable and faith-based organizations; local, state and tribal governments; and businesses to improve the nation’s food security and conserve natural resources by reducing food waste.

According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, an average American family of four throws away more than $1,500 worth of food containing over 2 million calories every year.

Of course, it’s not just consumers. Supermarkets, restaurants, institutions, even food producers and processors themselves do more than their share of food wasting.

“The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste,” said Sec. Vilsack in announcing the food waste reduction initiative. “Our new reduction goal demonstrates America's leadership on a global level in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste.”

The USDA projects that the food saved by reducing waste by just 15% would feed more than 25 million Americans every year, helping millions of people currently suffering from food insecurity.

It’s About Climate Change, Too

As if the lost nutritional value isn’t bad enough; all that wasted food rotting away in U.S. municipal landfills gives off what the USDA calls “a significant portion” of the climate change inducing greenhouse gas methane.

Landfills are the nation’s third largest source of methane, behind the oil and gas industry and domestic livestock production, according to the EPA’s website, which notes that about 21% of all material in landfills is wasted food.

“Let's feed people, not landfills. By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources, and protect our planet for future generations,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a press release. “Today's announcement presents a major environmental, social and public health opportunity for the U.S., and we're proud to be part of a national effort to reduce the food that goes into landfills.”

How Will They Cut Food Waste?

At first, all of the food-saving measures will be voluntary, with the USDA and EPA merely “encouraging” grocery stores and supermarkets, restaurants, food service companies, food producers and institutions to set their own food waste reduction goals.

Of course, Sec. Vilsack hinted that if positive results are not seen soon enough, anti-food waste legislation resulting in very non-voluntary federal regulations may be forthcoming.

The country of France recently enacted a law making it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food considered to still be edible.

This new food waste reduction effort is an extension of the existing U.S. Food Waste Challenge launched by the USDA and EPA in 2013. According to the USDA, the U.S. Food Waste Challenge had signed up over 4,000 participants by the end of 2014, well ahead of early goad of 1,000 participants by 2020.

  Program participants include state and local governments, food retailers and hunger-fighting charitable organizations. 

In other food waste reduction efforts, the USDA will soon start a new campaign to educate consumers on how to store food with an eye toward preserving it longer, as well as how to better understand food expiration date labels. In addition, a section on reducing food waste as a means to stretching consumers’ budgets will be added to the USDA’s website.

To be sure, the supermarket industry is buying into the food waste reduction program. For example, the Consumer Goods Forum recently committed its 400 food retailing and manufacturing members to cut their food waste in half by 2025.

“Reducing food waste is an important priority for Albertsons Companies,” said Jonathan Mayes, Senior Vice President of Albertsons, Inc.

“As part of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, we are focused on source reduction as well as providing food to other good causes such as hunger relief organizations and animal feed.”

“Food waste is a critical issue facing food retailers. Recognizing food recovery as an important approach to addressing hunger, protecting our natural resources, and minimizing costs, we applaud the establishment of a national goal for food waste reduction,” added Wegmans Food Markets Sustainability Manager Jason Wadsworth. “Wegmans is proud to stand with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency on this important initiative.”