USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the first-ever national food waste goal this month, calling for a 50 percent reduction in waste by 2030. Building on the Obama administration’s commitment to addressing climate change, the announcement occurred just one week before world leaders gather at the United Nations General Assembly in New York to address sustainable development practices, including sustainable production and consumption.
“The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on Earth, but too much of this food goes to waste,” Vilsack says. “An average family of four leaves more than 2 million calories, worth nearly $1,500, uneaten each year. Our new reduction goal demonstrates America’s leadership on a global level in in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste.”
According to USDA, food loss in the US accounts for approximately 31 percent, or 133 billion pounds, of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers. This waste is the single-largest component of disposed US municipal solid waste and accounts for a significant portion of US methane emissions. Experts say reducing this loss by just 15 percent would provide enough food for more than 25 million Americans each year.
“Let’s feed people, not landfills. By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources and protect our planet for future generations,” says EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “This announcement presents a major environmental, social and public health opportunity for the US, and we’re proud to be part of a national effort to reduce the food that goes into landfills.”
In 2013, USDA and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which created a platform for leaders and organizations across the food chain to share best practices on ways to reduce and recover food waste. By the end of 2014, the U.S. Food Waste Challenge had over 4,000 active participants, surpassing its initial goal of reaching 1,000 participants by 2020.
“We applaud these new nationwide goals for reducing food waste in the US. Everyone has a role to play in reducing food waste, and the food industry has already stepped forward,” says Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “Last year, GMA member companies recycled 93 percent of the food waste generated from manufacturing and donated 106 million pounds of food to food banks. We look forward to continuing our work on this important issue through the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, which was formed in 2011 by GMA, retailers and restaurant and foodservice companies. This cross-industry alliance works to identify sources of food waste, increase the amount of food sent to food banks and decrease food sent to landfills.”
In addition to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA has unveiled several food loss reduction initiatives over the past few years, including an app to help consumers safely store food and understand food date labels, new guidance to manufacturers on donating misbranded or sub-spec foods and research on innovative technologies to make reducing food loss and waste cost effective.
USDA and EPA will also continue to encourage the private sector—foodservice companies, institutions, restaurants, grocery stores and more—to set their own aggressive goals for reducing food loss and waste in the months ahead. Organizations such as the Consumer Goods Forum, which recently approved a new resolution to halve food waste within the operations of its 400 retail and manufacturing members by 2025, are helping to lead the way.
“Food retailers are community minded, neighborhood focused and intimately connected to the lives of their shoppers; as such, they work closely with their customers on those issues touching both the heart strings and the purse strings,” says Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute. “Reducing food waste at all levels in the food chain—farm, factory, store and home—is certainly one of those issues with economic and emotional appeal."