The Food Waste Crisis in America

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Every year America tosses about 40% of its’ food on an annual basis, costing us approximately 165 billion dollars each year. To put this into perspective, a round trip to the moon costs 750 million dollars. With the amount of food that we waste in the US every year, we could take that trip 220 times. The Antilla Mumbai, being named as one of the most expensive homes in the world, costs about one billion dollars to own. With the amount of money that America spends every year on food waste, we could purchase that house 165 times. The idea of that may be absurd, but it isn’t as outlandish as using 165 billion dollars each year as kindling to light a hypothetical fire that is slowly destroying our economy.

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The average American family income of 2018 is estimated to be around $59,055. The same household wastes approximately $2,200 worth of food every year which rounds out to be about 4% of that income. Within 25 years, that will add back up to be the same amount as a years’ worth of pay. It’s easy to brush off an issue like this when the short-term problems are not as intimidating as other pressing issues that we may have going on, however, ignoring something like this will only create problems that are too difficult for us to bounce back from. The first way that we can find a solution for the food waste crisis is by locating the source of the problem. Where is this food waste coming from? Statistics show that 2% of food waste comes from food manufacturing, 16% comes from produce on farms, 40% comes from retailers and supermarkets, and 42% comes from the consumer.

It’s time for 165-billion-dollar question: why is so much of our food going to waste? The same reason for several preventable issues in America that continue to happen regardless of the fact: people are not educated on the matter. America is not educating its citizens on proper food storage or elaborating as to why reducing food waste is so important. We don’t shed enough light on how much food is being wasted and the toll that it is taking on the environment and economy. Not to mention the families that are going hungry. Food insecurity is when a household does not have the means to feed themselves. If we were to reduce the amount of food waste by 15% that would be enough to save 25 million Americans from food insecurity each year.

During the 1960’s, the amount of annually wasted food came to 11.5 million tons. In 1990, the amount of wasted food grew to be 17.5 million tons. Today, American waste has grown by 23.5 million since the 1960’s which means it has grown by 204%. America is now wasting 35 million tons of food each year. A 2015 Tesla Model S weighs 4,646 pounds, which roughly equates to 2 tons. The weight of food that we waste on an annual basis is equivalent to 17.5 million Tesla cars. So where is our food waste ending up? Landfills. 20% of American Landfills are made up of food waste. Organic matter and food waste contribute to 16% of methane emissions in the US. Methane is a greenhouse gas that can trap heat in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gasses are the number one contributor to climate change. Methane is the second most harmful greenhouse gas to our planet, with the first one being Carbon Dioxide. Not only does wasted food make a great paper shredder for billions of American dollars, but it’s also an excellent way to increase our carbon footprint.

With the annual amount of wasted food keeps rising, it also increases the amount of greenhouse gasses that are being released into the atmosphere. This leads us to our final question: What can we do to decrease the amount of food waste? Most of us do not intentionally waste food, and plenty of us even have a feeling of guilt after we end up throwing out those spoiled yogurts that we bought in bulk on an impulse buy two weeks ago. A few of the biggest consumer habits that lead to unnecessary food waste are: Throwing out foods that are not actually spoiled, purchasing so much food that you are not able to eat all of it before it spoils, improper storage, and misunderstanding labels. 90% of food is thrown away too soon, which highlights the importance of understanding when our food is spoiled or not. A helpful tip to know is that the FDA does not legally require stores to use the “best if used by” stamps on their goods, with the exception of baby food. Most food is still edible after the stamped date as the purpose of date stamping is to let the consumer know the optimal time for both quality and taste of the product. The date is not a reminder to throw it away, rather it is just a helpful guide for the consumer.

The best way to determine whether your food is spoiled or not is to learn the symptoms of spoilage for various types of produce. However, often your food will save you the effort of googling images of spoiled veggies by smelling absolutely putrid. (Source: Emilie McGill’s most recent endeavor with avocados). Improper storage is an enormous contributor to food spoilage in the home, so understanding how to properly store your produce could make all the difference. Susan Gunelius, a contributing author of The Swag, wrote in the article dated April 27, 2017 helpful tips for ways properly store food. Gunelius wrote, “Never store your fruits and vegetables in plastic bags or plastic containers. Don’t allow too much moisture to touch your produce. Busy fruits and vegetables before they are ripe. Store ripe fruit away from unripened produce so the ethylene gas released by the ripe fruit does not cause premature ripening in your other fruit and vegetables. Store produce in the proper places such as the refrigerator or on the counter. Toss overripe produce immediately so it doesn’t cause the produce stored near it to ripen too quickly. Before you store it, buy local. The process to get produce to your supermarket is not quick To get the freshest produce that will last the longest, buy from local growers whenever possible. Store produce loosely packed so it can breathe. Avoid storing produce in the door of your refrigerator where the temperature can significantly fluctuate. And lastly, keep produce out of direct sunlight.”

Purchasing too much food after you make a “quick” run to the grocery store is something that a lot of us have experienced. Sales draw us in and fuel our justification for an impulse buy because “we’re saving so much money!”, when it is really causing us to lose money via wasted produce. An option to help you determine how much food you will need for the week is easily figured out by meal planning. Keeping a calendar of your meals and recipes will allow you to know exactly what you will need and how much of it you will need. Small changes are what will make all the difference in lowering the amount of food waste. The most important step in solving any problem is simply by educating people.
Many people are unaware of the food crisis in America because it is not talked about as much as it should be. Food waste is contributing to the waste of valuable resources. The production of food alone is costing 10% of the U.S. energy budget, 80% of freshwater, and one entire HALF of U.S. land. The annual amount of food waste in the U.S. is not just about food. It is also about the waste of valuable resources that goes into the production of our country’s food. The food waste crisis in America is proving to be costlier than we could have ever prepared for, and it is wildly important that we begin to make change. Reducing the amount of food waste that we acquire every year would not only save us hundreds of billions of dollars, but it would also help the hungry, reduce dangerous greenhouse gasses that are destroying the environment, and save us from wasting tons of valuable resources.

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The Food Waste Crisis in America. (2021, Mar 10). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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