The Problem of Food Waste

The Problem of Food Waste
My child ate half a bell pepper; what will I do with the rest?

Food waste is a problem. A huge problem. It may not seem like much when we toss out some leftovers, whether at home or from a restaurant, or when we throw out produce that we didn’t eat before it started to go bad, but it all adds up. Researchers have calculated that the average person produces nearly 475 pounds of food waste each year (GRACE, 2015). That is a staggering figure, especially when we realize that a lot of food gets wasted before it even makes it to the consumer (it goes unpicked, unprocessed, unsold, and so on). The Natural Resources Defense Council calculates that up to 40 percent of the US food supply is wasted every year (NRDC, 2012).

Not only does this food waste, the single largest component of solid waste in our landfills (NRDC, 2012), produce a huge amount of methane gas as it decomposes, but it utilizes all sorts of resources (cost of disposal, fossil fuels to transport, labor to move, etc.) before it even reaches the landfill. And this doesn’t even begin to account for the resources (land, water, labor, and more) needed to grow and produce the food in the first place.

A family of four is estimated to throw away the about $2275 in food each year, and America’s total food waste is valued at about $165 billion per year (NRDC, 2012). If we add in the value of the water wasted to grow this food, or consider the ecological impacts of the increased need for farm land on vulnerable wetlands, forests, and grasslands, we can see how food waste has serious environmental consequences. It’s estimated that 20 percent of our land, 4 percent of our energy, and 25 percent of our water is used to produce food that is eventually wasted (Spiegel, 2014).

All of this without mentioning the biggest downside of food waste: this is food that hungry people could be eating. A mere 15 percent reduction in food waste would save enough food to feed 25 million people every single year (NRDC, 2013).

While you and I may not be running a large corporate farm, a giant food processing plant, or even a food market, we do have the run of our households and we can start by working hard to reduce food waste within our homes. We can also choose compost food does go bad instead of sending it off to the landfill. Several cities, including the City of Boulder, have set up food waste collection and composting programs.

America’s per capita food waste has increased by 50 percent since 1974 (Hall, Guo, Dore, and Chow, 2009). It’s time to reverse that trend. Food waste has important social, environmental, and economic consequences. We need to start talking about it and thinking about it the same way we think about other types of resource conservation.

I’m working on putting together a list of ways you can reduce food waste within your home. I’ll post it here when it’s complete.


UPDATE: You can find my article on 34 Ways to Reduce Food Waste HERE.



GRACE (2015). Intro to Food Waste. GRACE Communications Foundation. Available HERE.

Hall, K., Guo, J., Dore, M., and Chow, C. (2009). The progressive increase of food waste in America and its environmental impact. PLOS One: 25 November 2009. Available HERE.

NRDC (2012). Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 Percent from Farm to Fork to Landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council. Available HERE.

NRDC (2013). Your Scraps Add Up: Reducing Food Waste can Save Money and Resources. Natural Resources Defense Council. Available HERE.

Rabin, K. (2012). 18 Little Known Facts that will Motivate You to Cut Back on Food Waste. EcoCentric Blog. Available HERE.

Spiegel, RP. (2014, October 31). Food Waste is a Bigger Problem than you Think. Triple Pundit. Available HERE.

6 thoughts on “The Problem of Food Waste

  1. Donna K

    Thank you for the stop provoking piece. I look forward to your list when it comes out.

    • Thank you! I hope to have the list of ways to reduce food waste within your home put together in another week or so.

  2. Gigi

    I’m guilty…but I do compost. I look forward to your list!

    • We all waste some; the goal is to reduce that amount. Progress is good. 🙂

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