How much food waste is in America? Anywhere from 30% to 40% of our food is lost or wasted. First, this is food that could end food insecurity and hunger. Second, food waste is a huge waste of land use, water, energy and inputs in addition to the transportation, processing, storage, preparation and disposal of wasted food.
Food waste seems to be talked about more lately but I’ve been waiting to see more private and public partnerships to tackle solutions. It requires sweeping changes in our grocery stores, big box stores, restaurants, and foodservice industries. And there is not a single solution that fits all. Change, I believe, starts at a local level with passionate leaders willing to invest time, energy and money to create a system that works in their communities and states, eventually contributing to country-wide and global change.
Is there a food waste goal we can all be working toward? The U.S. Department of Agriculture joined efforts with the Environmental Protection Agency and set a goal to cut food waste in the United States by 50% by 2030.
There is a lot of work to do in order to make it happen and we don’t have a single baseline to measure success against. Based on a USDA Economic Research Study in 2010, the EPA states “2010 was selected as a baseline at 218.9 pounds of food waste per person sent for disposal. The 2030 FLW (food loss and waste) reduction goal aims to reduce food waste going to landfills by 50% to 109.4 pounds per person.” The USDA estimates “in 2010 food loss and waste at the retail and consumer levels was 31% of the food supply, equaling 133 billion pounds and almost $162 billion.”
Can I cut food waste in half by 2030 personally? Yes. We all can. My kids and husband know we do our best to take home leftovers from a restaurant for another meal, freeze home-cooked leftovers at home, utilize vegetables in soups or sauces and fruit in smoothies or sauces before they spoil.
I look for bigger wins toward cutting food waste in half by 2030. This past week, Kroger Co. Zero Hunger|Zero Waste foundation announced their first grants to seven winners in Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa and Tennessee from over 400 applicants from amounts of $25,000 to $250,000 to innovatively address food waste. According to the foundation, innovators were selected because of their "big ideas, shared vision and collaborative spirit" in reducing waste. Key criteria included “alignment with the program's mission, potential for positive impact in U.S. communities, ease of implementation, geography, and measurability and scalability.”
Outside of the United States, countries are addressing food waste in their own different approaches. In 2016, France implemented a law banning supermarkets from throwing away edible food. It must be donated to food charities. Also in 2016, Italy loosened regulations to allow food to be donated that is past a “sell by” date, made it easier for farmers to transfer produce to charities and made it more socially acceptable to ask for “doggy bags” in restaurants.
There is not one person, group, organization, government agency or country that will change food waste alone. But there is a start and a movement making progress. We all can be a part of it. And in my lifetime, I hope to see food loss and waste reduced to so little we truly have zero hunger.