"Let's feed people, not landfills"

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy underscored the importance of yesterday's announcement between the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to set the United States' first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030.

The amount of food waste we produce is staggering:

  • An average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1500, uneaten each year;
  • Food loss and waste in the United States accounts for approximately 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers;
  • Food loss and waste is single largest component of disposed U.S. municipal solid waste, and accounts for a significant portion of U.S. methane emissions; and
  • Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would provide enough food for more than 25 million Americans every year.

Addressing food waste tackles so many issues simultaneously - landfills, methane emissions, food insecurity, climate change, and the financial security of those who grow and produce the food we eat.

There's also no one person, sector or industry who's really responsible for this ever-growing challenge.  All of us play a role, from the food we throw away in our homes to restaurants and grocery stores, to farms, schools and other institutions.

Starting with this announcement, new partnerships between federal agencies, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments will be forged to work on these issues, and to expand programs already underway.  More grocery stores and food delivery programs are buying "ugly" produce, food manufacturers are donating food once thrown away and as part of this initiative, USDA's "Let's Talk Trash" consumer education campaign is underway.

There are other government initiatives and campaigns, as well as private sector commitments.  The Consumer Goods Forum, for example, recently approved a new resolution to halve food waste within the operations of its 400 retailer and manufacturers members by 2025.

That said, food waste isn't an "in your face" issue for many of us.  It's easy never to think about it once the garbage men whisk away our weekly trash heap.  So next time we bring out that bag of trash, or throw away our lunch leftovers, remember that it does add up...and that, taken together, there are consequences for all of us.  Good move, USDA and EPA, for setting strong goals that require all of us to play our part.