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Food Waste and Recovery
Food Waste and Recovery
Each day in the US approximately one pound of food per person is wasted.
Today, it is estimated that 1/3 of ALL the food produced in the world goes to waste. This equals 103 million tons (81.4 billion pounds) of food waste generated in America in 2017, or between 30-40 percent of the food supply, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This means that either these products never leave the farm, get lost or spoiled during distribution, or are thrown away once purchased. This could be enough to feed every undernourished person ON THE PLANET. Reducing food waste would reduce the impact of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Michigan has a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and reducing food waste would help Michiganders reach this goal.
The Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes actions that can be taken to prevent and divert wasted foods.
The top levels of the hierarchy are the best ways to prevent and divert wasted foods because they create the most benefits for the environment, society, and the economy.
The EGLE Sustainable Food Management hierarchy...
... prioritizes actions we can all take to prevent and divert wasted food. Each level in the hierarchy focuses on different management strategies for recovering value from unwanted food. The top levels share the best ways to prevent and divert waste food. They provide the most benefits for the environment, society, and the economy, while the bottom levels represent the worst options. Preventing food waste is the #1 action each of us can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change too!
Every year, U.S. landfills and trash incinerators...
...receive 167 MILLION TONS of garbage. Over 50% of typical municipal garbage set out at the curb is compostable.
Of the remaining garbage, 21% is food scraps alone. 15% is paper and/or paperboard, 8% is yard trimmings, and 8% is wood waste.
Infographic from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
What You Can Do to Reduce Food Waste?
Food Waste Reduction for You
You are connected to the food that you purchase and eat. That connection has a lasting impact on the environment, your mental and physical health, the health of those around you, your bank account, and more!
As an individual you can make the largest difference through source reduction. Use the tips and tricks below and take the Food Hero Pledge to help reduce your carbon and food waste footprint!
Most people tend to buy more food than they need. Buying in bulk may be convenient, but research has shown that this shopping method often leads to more food waste.
Making frequent trips to the grocery store every few days, rather than a bulk run, will help you avoid buying more than you need.
Use all the food you purchased from your last trip to the grocery store before going to back.
Decide what you want to make for the week and make a list of those items and stick to the list. When planning meals remember portion sizes and only get as much as you will eat.
If you shop smarter for only what you need, you will be reducing your food waste while saving money.
Store Food Correctly
Improper storage leads to a large amount of food waste.
Many people are unsure how to store fruits and vegetables - this can lead to premature ripening and even rotten products.
Find helpful food storage tips on the US Food and Drug Administration resources on Are you Storing Food Safely Web page.
Don't be a perfectionist
What makes food 'imperfect'?
Imperfect or ugly fruits and vegetables are often thrown away because of their imperfections, but they have the same nutritional value and taste as their 'perfect' counterparts.
When consumers demand 'perfect' fruits and vegetables they are often leaving the 'ugly' products to rot and spoil.
This has become such a large issue that many grocery store chains, like Walmart and Whole Foods, have started offering discounts for 'ugly' fruits and vegetables.
In an ideal world, where you are shopping smart, leftovers would not be created. Shopping smart allows you to better portion food you're your household. As you get better at smart shopping, there should be fewer and fewer leftovers created.
If you have leftovers from a meal, don't forget about them in the fridge! Leftovers are often forgotten in the fridge and thrown away.
Storing leftovers in clear, rather than opaque containers helps encourage and remind you that the food is still in your fridge.
Keep your serving sizes in check
Overeating can be a problem for many people. Keeping your portion sizes within a healthy range helps keep you healthy but also reduces food waste.
Being mindful of how hungry you are and practice portioning based off that hunger. This is a great way to reduce food waste.
Get friendly with your freezer
Freezing food is one of the easiest ways to preserve food and there are many types of food that freeze well.
Learn more about how and what to freeze with the USDA Guide to Freezing Foods.
Understand expiration dates
Learn the difference between "best-by", "sell-by", "use-by", and expiration dates.
"Expires on" and "Sell By" can be confusing terms that companies often use on food labels. The US does not regulate these terms and this means there are inconsistencies and food producers setting their own dates and terms.
"Sell by" is used to inform retailers when the product should be sold or removed from the shelves. "Best by" is a suggested date that consumers should use their products by.
Neither of these terms means that the product is unsafe to eat after the given date.
For more information, visit USDA's Food Product Dating.
- Michigan Date Labeling Fact Sheet
- Michigan Food Donation: Liability Protections
- Save the Food
- National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), Food Waste
- EPA's Sustainable Management of Food
- USDA's Food Waste FAQs
Food Waste Reduction at Home
Studies show that on average, a U.S. household wastes about a third of the food they purchase every year. This accounts for 30-40% of food loss in the US annually and is valued at $240 billion.
Food waste ends up costing consumers the most due to differences in wholesale and retail pricing. Some common reasons for food waste in the home are unplanned purchases and a lack of date label understanding. These tend to cause consumers to over purchase, resulting in food spoilage.
You can reduce food waste in your home by practicing proper food storage, meal preparation, and composting.
Meal Preparation, Food Storage and Cooking with Scraps
Food Waste Reduction in Your Community
There are many community organizations that can play a big role in preventing food waste; these are programs like schools, universities, governments, non-profit food distribution agencies, and faith-based organizations.
They also have the unique ability to educate people on the importance of food conservation and donations.
How you can as a community help
- Reducing food waste in a soup/commercial kitchen
- Food Co-ops
- Community supported agriculture
Feed Hungry People
- Donate food after community gatherings
- Organize a food drive
- Organize a food scrap drop off location
- Food Collection from community to go to Anaerobic Digestors
- Community Garden
Food Waste Reduction in K-12 and Universities
- Utilize the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Food Waste Warrior Toolkit with free lesson plans
- K-12 Schools
- Food Matters Action Tool Kit
- Food Recovery Network
- Further with Food
- Adding Food Waste to a Yard Trimmings Compost Facility
- Bans and Beyond: Designing and Implementing Organic Waste Bans and Mandatory Organics Recycling Laws
Non-Profit and Faith-Based Organizations
- Feeding America in Michigan
- Food Gatherers - Ann Arbor
- Hidden Harvest - Saginaw
- Forgotten Harvest - Oak Park
- Kids Go Undercover to Discover Food Waste in their Homes
- Growing Hope Against Hunger
- What is Community Composting? Video Featuring Composters From Around the US
- Teaching Practical Strategies for Reducing Wasted Food Through Community Events
- Food Waste is the World's Dumbest Problem
- Composting 101
Food Waste Reduction and Recovery in Agriculture and Manufacturing
Food is currently being wasted at all steps of the supply chain - the first being agriculture and manufacturing. This includes crop producers, dairy farmers, animal farmers/livestock producers, plant and animal processors, and manufacturing businesses.
Some food products do not even the leave the farm. What are some reasons that food may not leave the farm?
- Imperfect or misshapen fruits and vegetables
- Varying ripening speeds cause growers to be unable to find buyers before product overripens
- Some products perish quickly making shipping and selling difficult
- Market prices too low to harvest crops
- Lack of labor to harvest crops
Losing food at this stage not only creates a waste, but it uses a large number of resources. Growing food requires land, fertilizers, pesticides, energy, and water.
The farming and manufacturing industry is coming up with solutions to food waste using the Food Recovery Hierarchy.
Some are creating markets for imperfect to feed people. These crops are edible but are not viewed as top grade and would be unlikely to sell at conventional wholesale markets. Others are creating markets for overripe foods that can be used to feed animals.
Use the resources below to learn more about food waste and recovery in Agriculture and Manufacturing.
Michigan Regulatory Information
Environmental Impacts of Food Waste
Food Waste Reduction and Recovery, Commercial
According to ReFED, in 2020 Consumer-facing businesses threw out 50 billion pounds of food, that's 40% of all the wasted food in the U.S. annually.
The commercial business sector includes restaurants, grocery stores, caterers/event planners, hotels, universities, hospitals, prisons, military bases, and government buildings.
Businesses can help reduce their food waste by tracking their food waste, hosting a waste free event, making a meal plan, and shopping list. Having a flexible menu to use leftover food is also a great way to prevent food waste.
- Waste reduction app diverts food from landfills | Great Lakes Echo
- Further with Food
- Make Food not Waste
Waste Free Event Planning
- Food Rescue Process, As Easy as 1-2-3
- Hotel Kitchen: How to reduce food waste in hotel kitchens
- National Restaurant Association
- Economic Impact of Food Waste
- Ugly Products: The Solution to Food Waste
- EPA's Excess Food Opportunities Map
- I Value Food
- Food Waste Reduction Made Easy
- Food Waste Separation Made Easy
- Food Donation Made Easy
- Guidance for Businesses Contracting for Trash, Recycling and Food Waste Services
Food Waste Reduction and Recovery, Landfills
Each year in the US, 52 million tons of food is sent to landfills, and an additional 10 million tons remains unharvested on farms, totaling about 63 million tons of waste annually. Food in the landfill creates methane gas which is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Keeping food out of the landfill protects the environment.
Landfilling food waste also costs you all of the potential benefits in the hierarchy like the ability to feed people, animals, and create a useful product through composting.
To learn more about the composition of Michigan's waste and the value of food recovery and recycle, see the the 2019 Michigan Recycling Economic Impact & Recycled Commodities Market Assessment and Gap Analysis 2021 Update, both commissioned by EGLE.