Nearly a third of the food available to be eaten in the U.S. is thrown out instead. And all of that wasted food comes with a steep price tag.
According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans wasted an estimated 133 billion pounds of food in 2010, the most recent year data is available. That’s 31 percent of the food sold at grocery stores and served in restaurants. The study does not include food wasted prior to the retail level.
USDA economist Jean Buzby, who led the new study, says all that lost food is worth nearly $162 billion dollars.
“We estimate that per capita that’s about $1.43 per day,” Buzby said.
It’s also a loss of about 1,200 calories per person per day – about half the calories consumed each day by the average American in 2010, according to Buzby.
The USDA tracks more than 200 kinds of food in its estimates of food availability and food loss. Buzby says among the different commodities, dairy products and fresh produce are the most commonly wasted, by volume. Those groups combine for 52 percent of food lost in 2010.
The most expensive foods to leave uneaten are meat, poultry, and fish, which make up 12 percent of food lost by volume, but 30 percent of the lost value.
The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency are urging everyone from grocery stores to hospitals to cut back food waste. EPA estimates that after recycling, 21 percent of what goes in the landfill is food waste. And as food piles up and decomposes, it puts off methane gas which is roughly 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
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Over the next few months, Iowa Public Radio and Harvest Public Media will be working on stories about where waste occurs in the food system and how people are trying to bridge those gaps.
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