Stark food waste statistics in America remind us we can all do better—and save a ton of money in the process.
By Menaka Ravikumar for TasteHaus
Every Tuesday—the night before garbage collection—I clean out my refrigerator. I’m appalled and ashamed at how heavy the bag becomes with food waste—expired items, rotten produce, and uneaten leftovers. As vigilant as I try to be, I can never quite get a handle on making this ritual less embarrassing. It isn’t only me: food waste in America is an enormous sustainability problem.
What causes food waste? How much food do Americans waste? How does my food waste compare to global food waste statistics? And can I prevent it while still giving my family the best quality, healthiest food possible?
Food waste statistics
- Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—gets lost or wasted.
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.
- Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food—respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
- How much food is wasted in America, alone? USDA food waste statistics estimate between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food
- Fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
- Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 35% for fish.
- The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).
How to prevent food waste and reuse scraps
One of the best food waste articles in recent years comes from Move for Hunger: a wonderful guide to reusing food waste, scraps, and leftovers. Their tips and tricks include:
- Make stock from vegetable scraps and tops. Place them in the freezer for use later.
- You can revive many limp or wilted veggies by placing them in a can of cold water—or directly into your favorite soup or stew.
- You can regrow lettuce from a lettuce heart
- You can grow a pineapple plant from a pineapple top.
- Instead of making a traditional basil and parmesan pesto, make a waste-free pesto by blending green carrot tops and radishes with nuts and garlic. This can be an impressive, flavorful dish. Macadamias pair especially well with carrot and radish tops.
- Potatoes are delicious, but potato peels can be, too! Throw them in the oven with oil and seasonings like salt and pepper for a great snack! Sprinkle them with cheese for extra flavor.
- Place stale bread in a grinder to make breadcrumbs. Make croutons by cutting them into squares and microwaving them. Croutons can be added to soups, salads, and a variety of other dishes.
- Leftover jams and jellies, combined with equal parts vinegar and oil, make a terrific salad dressing
- Apple peels combined with hot water make a comforting tea.
- Let the acidity of apples clean your dirty dishes! Simmer a dirty pot for 20 minutes with water and apple peels, then rinse. It’s magic!
Citrus & cucumber
- Make youyour stovetop sparkly clean with squeezed lemon halves
- Store leftover veggies in leftover pickle brine, and keep the jar closed and refrigerated. Marinated vegetables are a great snack, make an impressive addition to a crudité platter as well!
- Peels of cucumber have properties that can moisturize your skin. Add them to bathwater to help dry or itchy skin.
- Citrus zest can improve the scent of your garbage disposal.
A Solution: Meal and Menu Planning
Prevention of food wastage begins at home. Planning a weekly menu and meals before going food shopping is one of the easiest food waste solutions. On a pad of paper or a spreadsheet write Monday through Sunday across the top and your meals and snacks down the side. Have a look at some cookbooks or recipes you’ve bookmarked and start filling in your meal plan. Plan simple meals or leftovers on busy nights and keep meals that take a little more time on weekends. Cooking in bulk and freezing a portion for an easy meal later is a great timesaving tip. Then, write your ingredient list, cross off anything you already have in your pantry and only buy what is on your list!
Tips for meal and menu planning
Think of your meals by category. Many home cooks organize by cooking method. Slow cooked in a slow cooker? One pot meal in a Dutch oven or Instant Pot? Baked on a sheet pan? Grilled on the BBQ or inside grill? Choosing different categories for different days increases the variety and interest aspect.
After you have created a few different meal plans, you can recycle them to save time. Remember to take note where these recipes are located for easy reference the next time you come to make them.
How to prep food
Prep your fruit and vegetables within twenty-four hours of returning from the grocery store. By setting aside twenty to thirty minutes to prep your fruits and vegetables for the week ahead, they will be easy to eat and ready for recipes in the week ahead. They won’t rot in the bottom of the crisper drawer, or turn to compost and waste from neglect.
Store them in glass mason jars or storable plastic containers.
Tips for prepping your food
Before you start prepping, assemble:
- a sink full of water for cleaning
- a cutting board
- a sharp paring knife
- sharp chef’s knife
- a vegetable peeler
Chop, slice and dice the vegetables depending on how your will use them. If you plan to use veggies as grab-and-go snacks, cut them into easy to grab sizes and pre-pack in airtight containers with some water inside to keep them crisp. If you need cauliflower rice, rice your cauliflower in your food processor and store in an airtight container. Save the vegetable scraps such as stalks and ends for cooking soup stocks. Freeze scraps in the freezer if you aren’t ready to make them right away. Mindfulness prevents food wastage.
TasteHaus’s favorite tools for reducing waste
Mason jars: Our blogger Brittany Bacchus recommends Ball Mason Jars. They have airtight lids and can be used in a variety of ways. They can hold anything from water to overnight oats, and you can stack them to save space in the fridge.
InstantPot: Ann Lin, one of our bloggers, finds that cooking with an Instant Pot makes healthy meals easier. One-pot meals create less waste and provide an opportunity to use food scraps. It pressure cooks, slow cooks, cooks rice, steams, sautés, and makes yogurt.
Reusable Cheesecloth: you can use an unbleached, 100% cotton cheesecloth time after time to make dishes like paneer, a household favorite in South India. They’re great for straining broth or removing particulates from juice. They will hold up better than the cheaper gauze like material, which isn’t as strong.
Silicone bags: We love to use silicone bags instead of plastic. They’re a lot more eco-friendly and BPA free. Use them for cooking and sous vide. You can even boil cut vegetables while they’re still in the bag!
Bento boxes: Ann Lin feels not only that YumBox Bento Boxes make your lunch tidy and fun, but eco-friendly. Because they help portion and measure out food and keep food warm, kids can use them to bring dinner leftovers to school.
Everybody plays a role in what we save and what we waste, what we consume and what we throw away. We should all make it our role to minimize food waste.