Food Waste in America

with 12 comments

w-foodwasteHere’s a statistic that will make your head spin. Americans waste 40% of all food. Meaning we throw approximately 165 billion dollars down the drain. And with all that waste comes pretty serious consequences. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study this means that we’re adding 34 million tons of waste to the landfill, with 23% of our methane gas emissions coming from food waste. Our current farming system uses 80% of our fresh water supply and 50% of our land to grow our food.

Something needs to change.

Thank goodness we live in a city like Austin, TX where we are blessed to have people who care. We have organizations, businesses and community leaders putting their heads together to brainstorm ways to reduce Austin’s food waste. 2013 has been named the Year of Food Waste and Prevention, and this morning was their kick-off event. A whole bunch of brilliant like-minded folks gathered to talk about what food waste reduction looks like for our wonderful city.

Here’s why this matters. As food prices and food insecurity rises, our waste should decrease, not increase. According to the NRDC study, the amount of food waste is up 50% since the 1970s. So where is all of this food going? Let’s start at the beginning. On the farm 7% of food gets left in the field, due to the demand not matching the supply or the produce not meeting visual requirements. Even after the food is harvested, farmers sort through the food and cull produce that doesn’t meet the minimum standards for size, color and weight. Our high aesthetic standards for food is biting us in the rear.

The NRDC stated that one large cucumber farmer estimated that fewer than half of the vegetables he grows actually leaves his farm. This means that 75% of culled produce is edible, just not pretty enough to be sold. A cucumber is still a cucumber even if it has a few dings and scratches on it. You’d think that as consumers we’d realize that food is grown from the earth. It’s bound to get a little dirty, and that’s okay.

Here’s hoping we learn the value of a wax-free cucumber.

After the food is culled, it’s processed and distributed. This is where there are technical malfunctions that can result in huge batches of food being spoiled. This results from improper storage and refrigeration or stores rejecting shipments for one reason or another.

From here it finally reaches the retail and grocery stores. According to a Washington Post Article, a conventional supermarket tosses out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables in a single year. We’re back to aesthetics, as a majority of stores would rather overstock their shelves and throw out the “extra” than look empty. They’ll also cull again, removing vegetables and fruit that appear sub par, acting under the assumption that people won’t want to buy produce that isn’t attractive. Then there is the matter of “sell by” dates. Conventional grocery stores throw out $2,300 worth of food daily because the products are nearing their sell by date.

Which brings the cycle to us, the consumers. Let’s start with the very muddled idea of the expiration date. Here’s something you might not know, that date on the label is not when the food goes bad, it’s the date when the food is at its peak quality. Which means you can eat it on that date, and for some time afterwards. Because of our reliance on the expiration date, we end up throwing away a lot of food that is 100% edible.

We also are eating out more, and when we eat out we leave an average of 17% of our meal on our plates. All of which is tossed. What makes this even worse is that many chains have unnecessary regulations that require employees to throw away food. A well-known fast food restaurant throws their fries away every 7 minutes. According to the Washington Post article, such regulations result in 1/10 of fast food being thrown away.

Now that we have the facts, we’ve got to come up with some solutions. Dana Gunder from the NRDC pointed to awareness, portion sizes and education. Britain has managed to reduce their waste by 18% in the past five years through their public awareness campaigns and retailer resolutions. We can do the same. On a personal level that may look like adjusting your views on expiration dates and utilizing your freezer more. On a systemic level it could look like a large-scale study that characterizes what’s happening at each level of food production and consumption. Gunder also suggests standardizing date labeling. She recommends following in Europe’s foot steps, who has set the lofty goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2020.

The bottom line is that we need to foster a culture that values our food.

Which bring us back to Austin, where 2013 has been declared the year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery. The goal is to build a stronger local food system that enhances the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of Austin and Central Texas. The plans to achieve this goal includes expanding waste diversion rates and services, increasing composting for homes and businesses and improving recycling of materials and food scraps in public places and at public events.

At in.gredients, food waste prevention is a key part of our ethos. We encourage people to be mindful about their shopping, buying only what they need. In our six months of business we have sent zero pounds of food waste to the landfill. This is attainable through our composting, recycling and reuse methods. We look for as many ways as possible to use all the food that we have in the store.

We like to think of ourselves as an example for the zero food waste initiative in Austin. It’s an achievable goal and we have incredible community organizations that are doing outstanding work in the mission to reduce food waste. We tip our hats to the East Side Compost Pedallers, Food Recovery Network, Keep Austin Fed, Compost Coalition, Food is Free, Food Not Bombs and especially Break It Down Austin, our commercial composting and recycling partner.

Let’s keep food on the table and out of the landfill, shall we?

Written by cscdavis

January 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm

12 Responses

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  1. Super-like! I’m glad to see this subject becoming more mainstream. Here’s a nice info graphic on food waste from CNN last month. I love visuals (for kids).

    Great post. Keep those coming. Alas, I’m in Houston. We’re like eons behind Austin in that regard.


    January 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    • Thanks for reading Shannon! That is a great infographic. Houston will catch up to Austin, or you can just move here!


      January 23, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      • Gardening year round (without deer eating everything) is much better here. But we love visiting, even have family there. Austin is just way more up our alley.


        January 24, 2013 at 9:57 am

  2. Great article! I recently did a post on food waste myself. To me, it is a priority for food to make it to hungry people, especially good whole foods! The first place food should be distributed is people, then animals , then compost. That isincredible that in.gredients has had no food waste and to be partnered with a radical group like food not bombs is badasw! I live in missouri but love austin & follow what the store does. Very inspiring!


    January 24, 2013 at 10:16 am

  3. […] store called in.gredients has taken the dramatic step of being packaging free. And hidden in a recent blog post on food waste, they announced that in their first half year, they sent zero pounds of food waste to the landfill […]

    Getting Grocery Rite

    January 25, 2013 at 11:04 am

  4. […] managed to accomplish something fairly remarkable. In six months of operation, the store has sent exactly zero pounds of food waste to landfills. Simply and consistently applying composting, recycling, and reuse have yielded amazing results. […]

  5. i can not believe how much food is wasted in a year and i think we need to be more carfull about how much we throw away


    February 26, 2013 at 1:03 pm

  6. I help run a nonprofit called Boulder Food Rescue that picks up food (mainly fresh fruits and veggies) that would otherwise be thrown out from grocery stores and transports it by bicycle to agencies that serve hungry, homeless and low income folks in Boulder, Colorado. We have 120 hard working volunteers who bike food around town, deliver that food to over 50 recipient organization and in the past year and a half have rescued over 250,000 lbs of fresh produce. Our bike powered model is replicable in nearly every city, and we’ve created a step by step guide to how to do so! Thus far, six different cities have adopted our model and we’re always looking for more dedicated people to do the same. Austin seems *ripe* for such a program (please excuse the awful pun), as yall are already so focused on food there!
    Please visit for more information about how to start your own bike powered food rescue and begin addressing waste and want at the same time in Austin!


    March 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    • Thank you for the great information Nora! That definitely seems like something Austin should be doing. We will check out the guide. Thanks for the recommendation!


      March 1, 2013 at 1:45 pm

  7. […] Here’s some information on the larger problem of food waste and in.gredients, a local business that works diligently to keep food out of our landfills! The UT Concho Community Garden and the UT Microfarm are also avid composters. If you decide to donate your compost make sure to follow their guidelines, which are also a great source of information on composting. I encourage all to attend the upcoming gardening lessons that they will be providing during the Fall Semester. As a pupil of one of the garden’s composting classes I can say they are an informative and enjoyable experience. Also, cycling composters. Enough said. […]

  8. E waste is becoming a serious headache, especially the developed nations. To dispose e waste and recycle it so that the recycled products can be used, there are urgent steps that need to be taken.


    September 10, 2013 at 2:35 am

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