The lettuce is wilted, mushrooms are slimy, and the tomato turned to mush. Your intention to bring a fresh salad to work every day didn’t quite materialize, and all those ingredients ended up in the garbage can.
It might not seem like a lot, but when you add your rotting veggies to the waste generated by all the other households in the United States, the final result is that 40 percent of all food produced in our country ends up in a landfill.
Who wastes the most food?
When it comes to food waste, there are multiple sources responsible for generating it, including restaurants, grocery stores, and even farms, but the largest source of food waste comes from individuals in their home. Food waste in our homes is more than just the vegetables rotting in your refrigerator; it can also be raw or cooked meat, moldy bread or grains, expired dairy products, and leftover meals.
On top of the environmental impact, wasting food costs money beyond what you already paid for your groceries: a family of four typically “throws away” close to $1,500 annually on wasted food. Just think of the things you could do with that extra money!
Grocery Stores & Restaurants
In addition to waste that happens in our homes, food waste also occurs at each stop along the food supply chain, from farms to manufacturers to grocery stores and restaurants.
When it comes to food waste occurring at grocery stores and restaurants – industries that are always keeping an eye on profit margins – reducing food waste translates into increased profit. That means stores and restaurants are extra motivated to reduce food waste.
When purchasing focuses only on what foods appeal to customers, unwanted or unnecessary items no longer enter the mix. While this strategy helps the bottom line of businesses, it also has some unintended negative side effects.
How “Ugly” Produce Factors In
Stores’ analytical approach to purchasing has the power to trickle back to what and how much farms produce.
Based on data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is estimated that between 25-40 percent of all food that grown, processed and transported within the US will not be consumed.
Why does this happen? The primary reason for rejecting fresh produce is that it is considered cosmetically “imperfect.”
Apples with surface blemishes, unshapely carrots, cauliflower that’s a shade darker than expected… all these reasons and more can result in fruits and vegetables being left to rot in the fields, in distribution warehouses, and on trucks, and ultimately disposed of in landfills.
While all this “ugly” food is being wasted, fifteen percent of Americans are considered food insecure, meaning they are at risk for not being able to secure the food they need to survive.
EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy
When we look at how food is wasted along the supply chain, the need to make a change has never been greater. Reducing food waste in the United States can result in meaningful environmental, social and economic benefits.
While most of us are familiar with the food pyramid for healthy eating and nutrition, the EPA also has created a pyramid for food waste recovery.
At the top, the area we need to pay most attention to is reducing the amount of surplus food grown, next is using surplus food to feed the hungry, after that, using surplus food to feed livestock and animals.
The smallest segments of the pyramid include converting food waste to energy, composting, and then, only as a last resort, sending food waste to a landfill.
America’s “cult of perfection” when it comes to buying produce, contributes significantly to food waste in our country. While some supermarkets are pioneering “ugly produce” sections to bring awareness to this issue, most retail giants continue to reject fruits and vegetables on superficial ideals of perfection, fearing that sales and profits will decrease if they don’t.
Let’s Work Together to Stop Food Waste
As a consumer, what can you do to lessen your food waste impact? Here are four ideas:
- Don’t overbuy or be tempted by 2-for-1 sales.
- If your grocery store offers “ugly” produce, support the initiative by buying it.
- Encourage your local supermarket to donate unsellable but still consumable produce and goods to a local food pantry or soup kitchen.
- Buy frozen. Frozen vegetables are just as (if not more) healthy than fresh and won’t go bad in your refrigerator before you eat them.
Tommy’s Superfoods is committed to reducing food waste and helping to eradicate hunger in our communities. We love our planet and that’s one of the reasons why we make frozen vegetables – not only are they super tasty, healthy, and easy to cook, but they’re good for the planet too.
Next time you’re at the grocery store, think frozen instead of fresh. Big impacts can happen when individuals make small changes!