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Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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, which is based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of food loss at the retail and consumer levels of 31 percent, 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 is food waste defined in the context of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge?

There are many definitions of food loss and waste.  For example, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations uses food “loss” to refer to reductions in edible food mass during production, post-harvest and processing.  It uses food “waste” to refer to reductions at the retail and consumer levels. 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, where food waste is defined (by ERS)as the component of food loss that occurs when an edible item goes unconsumed, as in food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance and plate waste by consumers. For the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA is adopting the convention of using the general term “food 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.