Weighing the Impact of Food Waste

An estimated 160 billion pounds of food goes uneaten in the U.S. every year. Most waste occurs in the home, though all segments of the supply chain share responsibility. Veronica Carvalho explains potential remedies include standardized date labeling and better inventory management.

Veronica Carvalho
December 2018
 

While growing, preparing and eating food is one of the main activities of men and women today, about one-third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted every year globally. This means 1.3 billion tons of food end up in landfills. In the US alone, 40% of the food produced - about 160 billion pounds of food – goes uneaten.

This has huge impact not only on economy but also in communities and the environment, wasting freshwater and generating greenhouse gas emissions.

Food waste starts at the farm: In the U.S., about 7% of produce is left unharvested every year. Farmers tend to grow more than needed to deal with weather, disease and fluctuating orders. On top of this, to meet standard aesthetic requirements part of that crop will go to waste. Retailers are starting to work closely with farmers, sharing forecast data to help with their production plans and prevent overplanting. 

On the manufacturer side, food loss is the smallest in the supply chain - only 2%. Obviously, food processors have a vested interest in minimizing waste.

In store, it is a different story. It is estimated that the value of wasted food at retail is twice the profits from food sales. For every dollar made in profit 2 dollars worth of food is wasted. Grocers are aware and working on measures to reduce waste, recover and recycle food. Walmart, Ahold Delhaize or Kroger are donating safe, edible food that doesn’t meet standards, or using waste to create compost, bioenergy and natural fertilizers.  Retailers are also turning to technology to better manage inventory and distribution, applying dynamic pricing and markdowns to specific products. To curb waste, many retailers are now embracing the idea of selling “ugly” vegetables and fruits at discounted prices.

One of the biggest sources of food waste, however,  happens in the consumer’s home where products frequently carry a dizzying assortment of dates: “sell by,” “best by”, “use by”, “eat by”,“freeze by.” The list goes on and on. Many consumers believe that these dates are safety indicators and dispose of the food reaching those dates. Other consumers simply discard products unused when dates are reached.

Restaurants and fast-food chains also contribute to the waste. Many state and local regulations mandate discarding foods if they are unsold within a certain time limit. Uneaten, unsold hamburgers, for example, can’t just sit around waiting for a customer.

Studies have shown that food waste could be a solvable problem. The solution would include standardized date labeling, packaging adjustments to avoid spoilage, improved inventory and cold chain management, standardized donation regulation and, of course, consumer education.  

For PLMA live, I’m Veronica Carvalho.

 
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Weighing the Impact of Food Waste

An estimated 160 billion pounds of food goes uneaten in the U.S. every year. Most waste occurs in the home, though all segments of the supply chain share responsibility. Veronica Carvalho explains potential remedies include standardized date labeling and better inventory management. Click here for video.

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