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USDA and FDA combat food waste in the U.S.

| June 18, 2013

As Americans, our waistlines are bigger than ever — and yet we’re still wasting unprecedented amounts of food.

According to a recent report, “as much as 40 percent of food produced in America is thrown away, amounting to 1,400 calories per person per day [and] $400 per person per year.”

It wasn’t always this way. Food waste has grown by an astounding 50% since the 1970s.

compost in a bin

Food waste in America has grown by an astounding 50% since the 1970s. From Nick Saltmarsh.

As mind-boggling as that is, throwing out food doesn’t just impact our wallets. It is also taking a substantial toll on the environment. That same report says that our waste leads to “31 million tons of food added to landfills each year.”

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to counteract this disturbing trend — and those efforts are coming from some high places.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just released a new plan to combat food waste. The plan challenges both public and private sectors to make a change.

Compost Food Waste Only sign

The government is setting ambitious targets for reducing U.S. food waste – and private industry is onboard, with General Mills, Unilever and the Food Waste Reduction Alliance already participating. From recyclereminders.com.

The potential for impact is significant. The USDA and EPA aim to enact a “fundamental shift in how we think about and manage food and food waste in this country.”

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge calls on “producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies to join the effort to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste.”

These partner organizations are critical to the success of the Challenge. The goal: 400 partner organizations on board by 2015, and 1,000 by 2020.

Partner organizations will sign up to participate in the Challenge and make a commitment to work toward Challenge goals. General Mills, Unilever, and the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, among others, are already on board.

We know that when we reduce food waste, more food can go to people who might otherwise go hungry. Feeding America reports that 1 in 6 people in the United States face hunger.

That can change. Under the new Food Waste Challenge, the USDA will “work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.”

Unilever USDA food waste panel

At a USDA-sponsored panel, Unilever’s Kees Kruythoff discusses ways of minimizing food waste in America. From USDAgov.

So why is food waste also such a significant environmental issue? Because it’s about much more than clogging landfills. In the press release, EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe reminds us that “food in landfills decomposes to create potent greenhouse gases.”

These gases include methane. According to the EPA, methane has “21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide,” and “landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the United States, accounting for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions.”

The EPA also notes that the food itself isn’t the only factor to consider in discussions of food waste. “There are many resources needed to grow food, including water, fertilizers, pesticides, and energy. By wasting food, you re also wasting the resources that went into growing it.”

It’s simple: “By reducing the amount of food wasted, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Greenhouse gases mean climate change. With food waste entering landfills at extraordinary rates, this is a concern of supersized proportions.

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Category: Blog Landing Page, Food

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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