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Guess How Much Food The U.S. Wastes Each Year?

Currently, forty percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten, the equivalent of $165 billion a year.

The process of acquiring this food is indulgent in its exploitation of resources, consuming,  from the farm to our plates, 50 percent of U.S. land and 80 percent of all freshwater use.

The chain that supplies our food is a complex system, each stage with its own level of inefficiency. With help of a thoroughly researched report conducted by the NRDC, we can break down the origins of waste and resource misuse – though these finding are mere blemishes of the food supply chain.

From the Farm  – Primary reasons for food waste this early in the game come from over-production and culling. Farmers often produce an overabundance of crops to meet contracts with retailers. However, due to packaging standards, excess harvests are not accepted. Culling, meanwhile, is a process of elimination by which products are evaluated to ensure they meet color, weight, sugar content, and blemish standards before being accepted by manufacturers. Such processes can have astonishing results – at one large tomato-packing house, the reported amount of discarded tomatoes was the equivalent of 22,000 pounds lost every forty minutes.

Processing – This step of the supply chain creates the most waste through food trimming, a process involving the removal of skins, fat, and end bits, in addition to inedible parts of the food. A total of 16 percent of raw materials are lost during manufacturing.

Distribution – Due to malfunctions and accidents on the road, trucks lose large quantities of food resulting from poor refrigeration. Additional food losses result from too much time spent on loading docks, which can leave food exposed to inadequate temperatures for longer than they can tolerate.

Retail – Perhaps the most damaging of the supply chain, retailer food loses amounted to 43 billion pounds in 2008. Perishables, including seafood, meat, and ready-made meals rank amongst the most commonly wasted foods in retail. Though unsold fruits and vegetables account for a loss of $15 billion, which is in part the consequence of overflowing produce displays.  Unfortunately, many in retail view low waste levels as bad business, believed a result of under-stocked shelves.

From Our Plates – Every year, the average household tosses out 25 percent of all food and beverages purchased for in-home consumption; meaning one-fourth of the grocery budget, and the resources it provides, are essentially wasted. For a family of four, it is estimated these losses can total up to $2,275 a year.

In 2008, food services generated 86 billion pounds of waste of their own. McDonald’s serves as a prime example of this. To keep their food ‘fresh’, the golden arches toss out any fries that haven’t been purchased within seven minutes; for burgers they wait 20 minutes.

Restaurants, meanwhile, need to scale down their portion sizes and, though extra items may appear to compliment an entree, sides and other accompaniments should be added only be request. Neglecting to do so has contributed to diners leaving their meal unfinished; of the potential leftovers, less than half will be taken home.

Despite all of this excess waste, one in six Americans do not have a reliable food source. While full recovery of this waste generation will require participation from all members of the supply chain, reducing your individual waste does have a significant impact.

One important habit to break is the reliance on expiration dates.

Because “sell by” and “use by” dates are not regulated, certain items may still be edible after their expiration date, and the occasional scar or blemish should not deter you from buying an item, nor should it encourage you to throw pantry occupants out.

If you must be rid of food items, compost them instead, and avoid throwing items away whenever possible. When large concentrations of food are left to decompose in the anaerobic environment of a landfill, they release suffocating quantities of methane – a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon emissions in global warming.

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