USDA: Retailers & consumers waste 133 billion pounds of food in 2010

American retailers and consumers wasted 31% or 133 billion pounds of food in 2010, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Each American wasted on average 429 pounds of food in 2010. Consumers left 90 billion pounds of food uneaten and accounted for 21% of the waste, and retailers threw out 43 billion pounds of food and accounted for 10% of the waste. The total consumer and retail food waste totaled about $161 billion in 2010.

The report published by USDA’s Economic Research Service in February found that dairy, vegetables, grain, and meat/poultry/fish ranked top when it comes to food waste by consumers.

  • Dairy products: 25 billion pounds or 19%
  • Vegetables: 25 billion pounds or 19%
  • Grain products: 18.5 billion pounds or 14%
  • Meat, poultry and fish: 15.3 billion or 11.5%

The USDA noted that consumers often throw out food because of abrasion or bruising of the product, improper storage, confusion over “use by” or “best before” dates, lack of knowledge about how to prepare certain produce, and uneaten leftovers. The report also noted that retailers, such as supermarkets, would throw out food because of damaged packaging, abrasion, blemished or poorly shaped produce, and overstocking.

The cost of meat, poultry, and fish waste is estimated to be $48.5 billion that year. Vegetable waste cost about $30 billion.

“Publicizing where and how much food goes uneaten and the value of this loss may help inform policymakers about the issue and help increase the efficiency of the farm-to-fork food system and food recovery efforts to feed the growing human population,” according to the report. “Even a modest, yet economically feasible, decrease in food loss from small loss-reducing initiatives or newly adopted processing, packaging, and storage technologies could lessen the environmental impacts of food waste generation and disposal.”

The report warned that food waste also means waste of money and natural resources.

Read more: World Banks warns of dire global food & water scarcity, major economic disruptions due to climate change

For example, the amount of energy required to produce the food that end up being wasted each year is about 300 million barrels of oil – or 2.5% of energy consumption – and accounts for 25% of the total freshwater used in agriculture.

Food waste puts “pressure on availability of fresh water and other natural resources” such as land at a time when the worldwide population is growing and will reach 9.3 billion by 2050, necessitating an increase of food production by 70%, according to the United Nations.

Furthermore, the report concludes that food waste contributes to greenhouse gas. Food waste accounts for 13.6% of municipal waste, costing $1.3 billion to landfill per year. Landfills causes 34% of human-related methane emissions, which is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

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