Food waste is an environmental, economic, and social issue. In the U.S. 40 percent of the food produced goes uneaten and sent to the landfill and $218 billion is spent on growing, processing, transporting, and disposing on food that is never eaten. The majority of this food waste is still good for consumption and could be given to those who are food insecure. In Tennessee, 1 in 7 Tennesseans are food insecure.

What is food waste?

Food waste is any food that is grown and produced for human consumption, but is not eaten. Food waste can happen anywhere along the supply chain, and even includes unavoidable food scraps such as bones and rinds that hold a beneficial value for reuse.

Where does food waste occur?

Food waste happens all across the supply chain, including farms, food manufacturers, consumer-facing businesses, such as retail grocers, restaurants, food service providers, and institutions, and homes. Among these groups, consumer-facing businesses and homes represent over 80 percent of all food waste. In a Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste, ReFED states that of the 63 million tons of food wasted each year, 10 million tons is from farms, 1 million tons is from manufacturers, 25 million tons is from consumer-facing businesses, and 27 million tons is from homes. This results in a $218 billion loss in value. In the landfill, food waste accounts for up to 22 percent of landfill waste by weight.

Why does food waste occur?

The reasons for food waste vary along the supply chain and are specific to the group/sector handling the food.

Farms: Strict cosmetic standards from grocery stores, restaurants, and other food service providers, results in a high demand for perfect produce (i.e. a perfectly rounded potato, a green bean no more than 4 inches long). Gleaning and efforts from food banks helps to recover some of this imperfect produce, but the majority is still left to be tilled under.

Manufacturers: Sometimes food manufacturing processes leave edible scrap produce unused. Items such as stems, leaves, peelings, and ends are trimmed or removed before being used in the final product.

Consumer-Facing Businesses: These businesses include restaurants, grocery stores, and other food service establishments. Customer demands to have a variety of food products, put a strain on inventory management and food purchasing. Customer demands for “perfect produce” leads to safe and edible food being dispose of.

Homes: There are many factors that lead to food waste in homes. The demand for variety, but the lack of knowledge on how to repurpose ingredients and store food properly leads to food spoilage. Unplanned food purchasing and buying in bulk account for 55 percent of food purchases, and often leads to food spoilage as well. A lack of standardization of date labels leads to consumers throwing away food before it is spoiled and accounts for 20 percent of home food waste. Additionally, many consumers have limited access to municipal organics food waste recycling and find barriers to composting at home.

This information and additional research can be found in ReFED’s Roadmap to Reducing Food Waste in the U.S.

What actions can you take?