Food is wasted at every stage of production, from farming to distribution to retail to consumption. Among the causes are cooking losses, intentional food waste, losses from pests, mold, or insufficient climate management.
Food waste is a significant global issue. Across the globe, approximately 14% of the world’s food, valued at $400 billion, is lost on an annual basis between harvest and the retail market (FAO, 2019). At the same time, an estimated 17% of food is wasted at the retail and consumer levels (UNEP, 2021).
Food waste has broad-ranging implications on both a national and international level. Up to 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is left uneaten, and 95% of food that is thrown away ends up in landfills. In fact, in makes up about 21% of municipal solid trash. Only 5% of the food waste generated in 2014 was diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting, totaling more than 38 million tons. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, is produced when food waste decomposes. One-third of the food produced worldwide is thrown away uneaten, adding to the environmental load. More than 25 million Americans might be fed each year if food waste were reduced by 15%. While eatable food is wasted, millions more around the world are undernourished and lack access to enough food. These social and humanitarian issues can be addressed, in part, by reducing food waste.
There have been initiatives to reduce food waste. The U.S. Food Waste Challenge was announced in the United States on June 4, 2013, by the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It was aimed at encouraging organizations from all sides of the food chain, such as farms, agricultural processors, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, universities, schools, and local governments, to participate. On September 16, 2015, both organizations also unveiled a national goal for reducing food loss and waste by 50% by 2030 to enhance overall food security and protect natural resources.
Similarly, according to Guardian, the largest residential domestic food waste recycling program in the U.S. will be implemented in California in January as part of an initiative to drastically cut down on organic waste in landfills and lower methane emissions in the state. Under California’s new law, the state must cut organic waste in landfills by 75% from 2014 levels by 2025, or from about 23m tons to 5.7m tons.
On an individual level, we can do proper meal planning to assure minimum waste, use portion control to avoid plate waste, and donate the surplus food to local food banks, shelter houses, or people in need. Composting the food waste at home is another possibility to keep food waste out of landfills and create nutrient-rich soil. The change starts with us, in our homes, to fight the growing global food waste problems. If each individual is aware about the food we grow, purchase, and consume, we will be able to combat food waste.