ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to using data-driven solutions to tackle food waste, has released the latest statistics from their powerful Insights Engine. This coincides with the US Environmental Protection Agency's updated numbers on food waste this month. So, what do the new numbers reveal?
In 2021, the US produced 91 million tons of surplus food, which accounts for around 38% of the country's total food supply. This equates to an average of 548 pounds of excess food per person, valued at $444 billion, or approximately 2% of the country's GDP. While these statistics are staggering, they also highlight the complexity of the problem of food waste across the global food supply chains. This makes it challenging to measure with precision, but ReFED is committed to analyzing data to help us understand the true scope of the problem and how to solve it.
Food waste is not just one problem; it's a tangled web of issues that affect the global food supply chain, making it notoriously difficult to measure with precision. But with accurate statistics, farmers can dial in production, policymakers can create workable legislation, and eaters can avoid wasting perfectly good food. When we have quantifiable facts about where we stand right now, we can correctly measure how far we've come already and sharpen our goals for the future.
Reducing food waste is part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and goals set by the US Department of Agriculture and the EPA. It is also why the work done by organizations like ReFED is so crucial. They provide essential data and analysis that enables farmers, policymakers, and consumers to make informed decisions to reduce food waste.
The issue of food waste is not just about surplus food; it's also about the environmental and societal impacts that it has. The complex global supply chains that get food to us are directly linked to the climate crisis, and food loss and waste are responsible for approximately 7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, nearly a third of the world's agricultural land is used to grow food that's never eaten, while millions of people are still living in hunger.
To tackle this thorny issue, we need to take a serious look at who controls the levers of power in the food system. We need to ask what corporate leaders and even store managers are doing to reduce waste. We must also ensure that strong legislative policies make it easier to donate food than to throw it away. Furthermore, supporting regional food networks that can produce culturally specific varieties of food that people need is essential.
The fight against food waste has come a long way, with awareness of the problem much greater now than it was even a decade ago. The transformative Food Donation Improvement Act has been signed into law, and organizations like the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic are doing vital analysis on a country-by-country level. However, there is still much work to be done. By working together and utilizing accurate data, we can all play our part in reducing food waste and its environmental and societal impact.