What is Food Waste and How to Reduce it

Feeding America

Table of Contents:

Most people don’t realize how much food they throw away every day — from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce to parts of fruits and vegetables that could be eaten or repurposed.

  • 40% of all food produced in the US is wasted.
  • Americans waste $218 billion in food each year, with dairy products being the most discarded. (Feeding America)
  • The US spends over $1 billion to dispose of food waste.
  • 40.9 Million people in the US are food insecure.

Wasted food is the single most common type of material found in municipal landfills, and it represents nutrients that could have helped feed needy families. Furthermore, the water, energy, and labor utilized to make wasted food may have been used for anything else.

To effectively reduce food waste, federal, state, tribal, and local governments, faith-based institutions, environmental organizations, communities, and the whole supply chain must work together.

Food waste in USA featured

Feeding America & how to donate

Feeding America logo

Feeding America is a United States–based nonprofit organization that is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies.

In the mid-1960s, during rehabilitation in Phoenix, Arizona after a paralyzing injury, John van Hengel began volunteering at a local soup kitchen. He solicited food donations and ended up with far more food than the kitchen could use. Around this time, one of the clients told him that she regularly fed her children with discarded items from a grocery store garbage dumpster. 

Van Hengel began to actively solicit unwanted food from grocery stores, local gardens, and nearby citrus groves. His effort led to the creation of St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, the nation’s first food bank.

Forbes ranks Feeding America as the second largest U.S. charity by revenue. Feeding America was known as America’s Second Harvest until August 31, 2008.

  • Feeding America works to educate the general public and keep them informed about hunger in America. The national office produces educational and research papers that spotlight aspects of hunger and provides information on hunger, poverty and the programs that serve vulnerable Americans.
  • Feeding America’s public policy staff works with legislators, conducting research, testifying at hearings and advocating for changes in public attitudes and laws that support Feeding America’s network and those the organization serves.
  • Feeding America receives financial and in-kind support from a wide variety of corporations, non-profit organizations, and individual donors, including in the form of direct food donations and advocacy support

Click here to donate to Feeding America today and help save lives.

How much food is wasted in the USA?

How much food do Americans throw away? Consider the following “food for thought”: While the world loses over 1.4 billion tons of food each year, the United States throws out more food than any other country: nearly 40 million tons — 80 billion pounds — each year.

  • This translates to 219 pounds of trash per person and is about 40 percent of the whole US food supply.
  • That’s the equivalent of every individual in America tossing more than 650 average-sized apples into the garbage — or, more accurately, into landfills, as most thrown food ends up there.
  • Food is the single greatest component occupying landfill space in the United States, accounting for 22 percent of municipal solid trash (MSW).

Why do people waste so much food?

Food Waste stats
Source: Recycle Track Systems

Prior to COVID-19, it was estimated that 35 million individuals in America, including 10 million children, were food insecure. 8 Due to the pandemic’s employment and financial consequences, that figure is likely to rise to as many as 50 million people9 by 2022. With so many people in need of basic food, why do Americans waste so much of their food abundance?

  • Understanding what causes food waste in America is a difficult task that involves navigating the complex landscapes of socioeconomic inequality, uncertainty, and ingrained beliefs, all overlaid with human actions and habits.
  • Food deterioration, whether genuine or perceived, is one of the leading causes of food waste. More than 80% of Americans throw away perfectly acceptable, consumable food because they misinterpret expiration dates. Labels such as “sell by,” “use by,” “expires on,” “best before” or “best by” are confusing to people, and they will throw it away to avoid the danger of foodborne illness.

Environmental Impacts of Wasted Foods

While the food waste movement in America is gaining traction, it needs to accelerate in order to assist & resolve one of the world’s most serious issues: climate change.

  • Food Waste has permanent environmental consequences: it wastes the water and energy used to make it and emits greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, which contribute to global warming.
  • Food that rots in landfills emits nitrogen pollution, which causes algal blooms and dead zones. According to the World Wildlife Federation, the amount of wasted food produced in the United States is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions of 37 million cars. If Americans continue on their current course of food waste, the environmental consequences could be severe.

Tips to Reduce Food Waste

Food Waste hierarchy
Source: USDA

Be thoughtful and deliberate when eating out.

Recognize that portion sizes vary and order only what you know you will consume. If you have leftover food, which is common with today’s big American food portions, take it home to share with others or to enjoy for another meal the next day.

Bring your own containers to take leftover food home if you are truly concerned about the environment. You’ll be helping to reduce the 150 million tons of single-use plastic that we use – and trash – each year.

Reconsider the “all-you-can-eat” buffet-style restaurant model

It encourages people to take out more food than they can possible eat, and that food is nearly invariably tossed out mindlessly after piling a plate full. Food waste from restaurants is a larger issue and requires attention.

Follow a global model

When it comes to managing food waste, several countries throughout the world are ahead of the United States. France, for example, requires restaurants to contribute food that is about to be thrown away but is still edible.

Cities in Sweden use food waste to generate fuel for public bus transportation. In Denmark, you may use an app to locate eateries and bakeries that are about to close and buy their remaining food for a fraction of the price.

Source Reduction

This goes back to the old saying of “take only what you need.” We will waste less food if we buy and produce less food. Simply said, this is about decreasing waste by avoiding creating it in the first place.

Feed Hungry People

Much of what we throw away is perfectly edible. This is intolerable, with 50 million people expected to be food insecure in 2022 alone. Food banks and shelters across the country would gladly accept the food that many Americans discard.

Feed Animals

Humans aren’t the only ones that require nourishment; our animals do as well. Those food scraps we throw away after dinner, which will inevitably wind up in a landfill, can be collected and fed to farm animals, diverting even more food waste from being thrown away.

Industrial Uses

Did you know that part of the food you throw out can be converted into biofuel and bio-products that can power your car? The sun and wind have supplied alternate energy sources. Why shouldn’t our food be another source of energy?


Composting food waste is near the bottom of the Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy and is something that everyone is capable of doing. Composting not only keeps your food waste out of the landfill (and therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions), but it also improves soil and water quality, which helps future crops grow.


This is the bottom of the Food Waste Hierarchy – and our last, last resort for waste. Avoiding this tier begins with everyone of us, by eliminating waste at the top of the tier – exactly where it’s sourced and where we have control over how much we consume, buy, and create.


Climate change is real and happening as we speak. With a large number of the global population at risk of malnutrition and starvation, countries around the world should devise a plan to reduce food waste.

A proper mechanism will help millions around the world get better nourishment. It is about everyone, from individuals to major organizations, doing their part — accepting responsibility and making tiny changes to produce meaningful, long-term changes for the planet.

Scroll to Top