About 40% of all food produced in the United States goes to waste – an amount worth about $165bn, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The report claims that the relatively low cost of food at retail is a major factor in household food waste, as food spending now accounts for less than 10% of average household income, the lowest proportion in history. An average family of four throws away food worth about $2,275 a year, the environmental non-profit found.
Portion sizes in restaurants have grown to twice to eight times recommended standard serving sizes, meaning more food ends up in the trash, and retailers toss about $15bn worth of unsold fruits and vegetables every year.
However, the problem of wastage extends all along the food supply chain, and overall waste has increased by half in the United States since the 1970s.
NRDC project scientist with the food and agriculture programDana Gunderssaid: “As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path – that’s money and precious resources down the drain. With the price of food continuing to grow, and drought jeopardizing farmers nationwide, now is the time to embrace all the tremendous untapped opportunities to get more out of our food system.”
US food waste also has knock-on effects throughout the supply chain, including wastage of land, water and oil for agricultural use, and uneaten food accounts for nearly a quarter (23%) of US methane emissions, the report said. Meanwhile, agricultural production of uneaten food accounts for 25% of the fresh water and 4% of the oil consumed in the United States.
NRDC suggests that businesses, consumers and government should work together to reduce food waste, by introducing measures that would clarify date labels on food, improve food recovery, and encourage less wasteful shopping habits.
Among the most frequently wasted items in the United States are produce, 52% of which goes to waste, seafood (50%), grain products (38%), meat (22%), and dairy (20%).
The Food and Agriculture Organization has previously reported that there is a stark division between the kind of food wastage that goes on in industrialized countries, which mostly happens at a consumer level, and that which happens in developing countries, where 40% of wastage happens at a post-harvest or processing level due to poor infrastructure and lack of investment in food production systems.