Fixing Food Waste Close to the Fork

The percentage of food wasted remains high, and Thanksgiving leftovers hitting the trash can is only a small portion of that. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports 20 percent of American landfills are made up of discarded food scraps, and each year 35 MN tons of uneaten groceries. The group reports other figures including:

  • Restaurants and businesses are responsible for approximately 50 percent of food waste.
  • Food waste costs American households $124 BN per year.
  • Americans throw away 31 percent of all tomatoes they buy- accounting for 21 tomatoes thrown away per person each year.
  • Fish and seafood is the food group most often thrown away.
  • Meat, poultry, and seafood are the most costly foods wasted.

The EPA has attempted to initiate programs aimed at limiting food waste, encouraging consumers to make strict shopping lists, eating older groceries first and learning the correct ways to store foods. However, none of these initiatives have successfully limited the amount of waste produced each year.

One of the challenges faced by the EPA is the limited understanding consumers have concerning expiration labels on food products. A recent CR post “Fixing the Problem of Expiration Dates and Food Waste,” addressed concerns of food waste in relation to the misunderstanding surrounding the meaning of expiration food labels, as well as potential solutions to the traditional labels.

Food waste advocates suggest heightened consumer fear of eating something that has expired has caused people to become more cautious than before. This combined with the low cost of food, has allowed the concerns to fester. At the recent World Cold Chain Summit to Reduce Food Waste in London, England, Wyn Morgan, economics professor at the University of Nottingham said,

…food has become extremely cheap… [Today] we are much more willing to throw something out.”

Furthermore, advocates urge consumers to think twice before simply tossing groceries into the trash. Emma Marsh, author of Love Food Hate Waste says,

There are many points along the line when it could be saved—from buying just the right amount, to storing it properly, to freezing it before it reaches its use-by date, to finding imaginative ways of using odds and ends and leftovers in another meal… Getting those things right means that the food doesn’t have to go to waste.”

In an article, “10 Ways to Cut Global Food Loss and Waste,” published by the World Resources Institute recommended ways to reduce waste “close to the fork include:

  • Revise food date labels
  • Reduce portion sizes
  • Launch consumer awareness campaigns

Read more here- “The Leftovers We Toss,” (Olga Khazan, The Atlantic)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.

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