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Frequently Asked Questions

Does the U.S. have a food loss and waste reduction goal?

Yes, on September 16, 2015, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030. USDA and EPA will work in partnership with charitable organizations, faith organizations, the private sector, and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food loss and waste in order to improve overall food security and conserve our nation’s natural resources.

How much food waste is there in the United States and why does it matter?

In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change:

  • Wholesome food that could have helped feed families in need is sent to landfills. 
  • The land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society – and generate impacts on the environment that may endanger the long-run health of the planet.
  • Food waste, which is the single largest component going into municipal landfills,external link quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United Statesexternal link

How does USDA contribute to reducing food loss and waste?

New and ongoing USDA initiatives are already building momentum for food loss and waste reductions:

  • In 2013, USDA and EPA joined together to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to provide a platform to assess and disseminate information about the best practices to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste. By the end of 2014, the joint U.S. Food Waste Challenge (EPA plus USDA) had over 4,000 participants, well surpassing its goal of 1,000 participants by 2020.  USDA is working to grow this list and expand food loss and waste reduction efforts from farm to fork.
  • Reducing food loss and waste is core to USDA’s mission. USDA supports numerous programs and policies targeted to improving market and distributional efficiencies. Recently, USDA has instigated a wide variety of initiatives to reduce food loss and waste, including an app to help consumers safely store food and understand food date labels, new guidance to manufacturers and importers on donating misbranded or sub-spec foods, and research on innovative technologies to make reducing food loss and waste cost effective. USDA will build on these successes with additional initiatives targeting food loss and waste reduction throughout its programs and policies. 

What baseline estimates of food loss and waste will be used to measure progress in reaching the 50 percent reduction goal?

The United States currently does not have a single baseline estimate of food loss and waste. Instead, two very different measures describe the amount of food loss and waste in the United States:

  • EPA estimates the amount of food going into municipal solid waste (MSW): in 2011 food was 21.4% of Municipal Solid Waste, equal to 35.04 M tons (77 thousand pounds)
  • USDA estimates the amount of food loss and waste from the food supply at the retail and consumer levels: in 2010 food loss and waste at the retail and consumer levels was 31 percent of the food supply, equaling 133 billion pounds and almost $162 billion.

Neither estimate provides a comprehensive evaluation of food loss and waste in the United States.  However, reductions in both these estimates will provide evidence of progress in reducing food loss and waste and the serious environmental impacts associated with landfilling food. A variety of other data collection efforts across the country will help provide information on other segments of the supply chain.

How is food waste defined in the context of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge?

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) defines food loss as the edible amount of food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason. It includes cooking loss and natural shrinkage (for example, moisture loss); loss from mold, pests, or inadequate climate control; and food waste. For the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA is adopting the convention of using the general term “food loss and waste” to describe reductions in edible food mass anywhere along the food chain. In some of the statistics and activities surrounding recycling, the term “waste” is stretched to include non-edible (by humans) parts of food such as banana peels, bones, and egg shells.

What is the U.S. Food Waste Challenge?

On June 4, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, calling on entities across the food chain – farms, agricultural processors, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, universities, schools, and local governments – to join efforts to

  • Reduce food waste by improving product development, storage, shopping/ordering, marketing, labeling, and cooking methods.
  • Recover food waste by connecting potential food donors to hunger relief organizations like food banks and pantries.
  • Recycle food waste to feed animals or to create compost, bioenergy and natural fertilizers.

By joining the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, organizations and businesses demonstrate their commitment to reducing food waste, helping to feed the hungry in their communities, and reducing the environmental impact of wasted food.  The Challenge’s inventory of activities will help disseminate information about the best practices to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste and stimulate the development of more of these practices. The inventory of activities and participants will also provide a snapshot of the country’s commitment to—and successes in—reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste. The Challenge includes a specific goal of 400 participants by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020.

Who is invited to join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge?

Organizations in the U.S. food chain that currently create food waste are invited to join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.  This includes producer groups, processors, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, food service, industry groups, NGO’s, state, county and city governments, and other Federal agencies. Individual consumer activities, though very important to the goal of reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste, will not be included on the U.S. Food Waste Challenge website. 

How can participants join in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge?

There are two ways to join the U. S. Food Waste Challenge:

  1. Either participants complete the USDA activity form listing the key activities they are or will practice to reduce, recover, or recycle food waste in their operations. USDA will post these activities on its website.
  2. Or, participants join via participation in the EPA Food Recovery Challengeexternal link and benefit from EPA’s technical assistance to set specific quantitative food-waste goals and attain them!

Participants can also do both!

What is the difference between the U.S. Food Waste Challenge and EPA's Food Recovery Challenge?

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge is an umbrella challenge that includes both participants who join via filling out the USDA activity form and participants of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. 

EPA’s Food Recovery Challengeexternal link offers participants access to data management software and technical assistance to help them quantify and improve their sustainable food management practices. Participants enter goals and report food waste diversion data annually into EPA’s data management system. They then receive an annual climate profile report that translates their food diversion data results into greenhouse gas reductions as well as other measures such as “cars off the road” to help participants communicate the benefits of activities implemented. EPA provides on-going technical assistance to EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge participants to encourage continuous improvement.