Food Waste in America – The Facts

The facts about our food…

Last Week Tonight does a great job of bringing us the news in an engaging and amusing fashion. It’s one of my favorite ways to digest news and learn about absurd situations we, as Americans, have found ourselves in. The Food Waste episode was particularly jaw dropping so I’ve revisited it and brought you the highlights.

Food waste is a growing problem in the United States and we should all be aware of its impact on society and the environment because we all play a part in solving this dilemma. Understanding the implications of our actions makes us much more likely to make adjustments to our lifestyle, which is why I’m bringing you a taste of the truth about our food system.

Facts About Food Waste

  • As much as 40% of all the food produced in the United States never gets eaten
  • Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food every year… About 20 pounds per person every month
  • Americans throw away enough food every year to fill 730 football stadiums
  • The amount of food we throw out has increased by about 50% since the 1970’s
  • In our households we waste between 15 and 20 percent of the food we buy

Reasons Why Food Waste Is So Upsetting

  • In 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households
  • The food itself isn’t the only thing wasted. Think about all of the labor and natural resources that go into producing that food
  • The aggregated waste from landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times as potent as CO2
  • Food waste is expensive – we are essentially throwing away up to 1/4 of the groceries we buy

Main Contributors To The Food Waste Problem

  • Aesthetics – sub-par produce never even makes it to the shelves. Even though these fruits and vegetables are essentially the same, if they are not aesthetically pleasing they can lose up to 2/3 of their market value for farmers. There is no economic incentive for farmers to donate the food. Because of the time and money costs associated with delivering the food it’s cheaper for them to just throw it away.
  • Overstocking – produce shelves of supermarkets are over stocked to appeal to the psychological aspect of shopping. If there are only a couple of pieces of produce left on the shelf they are interpreted to be the “last choice” as shoppers assume they weren’t previously picked for a reason.
  • Sell By Dates – 91% of consumers reported that at least occasionally they had discarded food past its ‘sell by’ date out of concern for the product’s safety. Sell by dates are actually decided on by manufacturers. With the exception of baby formula, the US government does not require any food to carry and expiration date. Supermarkets discard food items that are past their labeled expiration dates and do not donate it due to a “health and safety issue” even though there has not been a single lawsuit filed against a supermarket for donating “expired” food (Food donators are actually protected from law suits by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act).

It’s shocking to see that we can have such an abundance of food, yet still have almost 50 million Americans experiencing food shortage problems. The extensive waste begins and ends with the actions of each individual. As soon as we each change our habits, we all take the first step toward solving this crisis. Learn how you can reduce your food waste with a few new habits.

The Full Food Waste Clip from This Week Tonight with John Oliver



I am a minimalist, environmentalist, and conscious consumer with a background in environmental studies, conservation, and tech. I founded prch to help others be more sustainable and realize an alternative to consumerism.