Food Waste for Thought

Did you know?

  • Between 30 to 40% of food goes uneaten in the United States.
  • Food waste is the largest component of US landfills at 21% – more than plastic (18%), paper (15%), metal (9%) and glass (5%).
  • The top three groups of wasted foods are meat, poultry, and fish (41%), vegetables (17%), and dairy products (14%).
  • When food ends up in landfills, it contributes to the third largest source (18%) of human-induced methane emissions in the United States. The comparative impact of methane on climate change is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

Producing and transporting food from the farm to our tables requires the use of enormous amounts of energy, land, and water. Approximately 13% of US carbon emissions are associated with growing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of food. Additionally, the USDA and USGS estimate that at least 45% of the total land area in the US is used as cropland and grassland/rangeland and at least 37% of all water used in the US is for food production. When food is thrown away, these natural resources and others that are used for growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and marketing foods are also wasted.

How You Can Help:

Solutions to reducing food waste require cooperation among food producers, retailers, policy-makers and consumers. Important steps that individual consumers can take to reduce the amount of food they throw away include being more careful shoppers, using better methods to store and reuse leftovers, serving smaller portions and composting. The following resources will help you reduce food waste:


  • Buzby, J., Hyman, J. 2012. “Total and per capita value of food loss in the United States”. Food Policy. Volume 37, Issue 5. pgs 561-570.
  • EPA. 2013. Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet. Accessed November 19, 2015.
  • EPA. 2015. Climate Change and Waste. Accessed November 19.
  • EPA. 2015. The Food Recovery Hierarchy. Accessed November 19.
  • UNFAO. 2013. Tackling Climate Change through Livestock. Accessed November 19, 2015.
  • USDA. 2011. Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007. Accessed November 19, 2015.
  • USDA. 2006. Economic Research Service. Irrigation Resources and Water Costs. Accessed Novebmer 19, 2015.
  • USDA. USDA and EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge. USDA. U.S. Food Waste Challenge: Consumers.