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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the goal of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge?

The goal of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge is to lead a fundamental shift in how we think about and manage food and food waste in this country. 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 across the entire U.S. food chain. The inventory of activities 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 partners by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020.

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

Everyone in the U.S. food chain who currently creates food waste is 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 (form is at “Join”). USDA will post these activities on its website.
  2. Or, participants join via participation in the EPA Food Recovery Challenge and benefit from EPA’s technical assistance to set specific quantitative food-waste goals and attain them!

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

The two Challenges work together to raise awareness about food waste and stimulate efforts to reduce, recover and recycle in the United States.  The difference between them is that the U.S. Food Waste Challenge invites participants across the food chain to list food-waste activities, in order to disseminate information about best practices and stimulate the development of more practices.  The EPA Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to set specific quantitative food-waste goals and then works with them to measure progress and attain goals. 

Are participants in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge automatically participants of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge and vice versa?

Participants in the EPA Food Recovery Challenge can become members of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge simply by virtue of their participation in the Food Recovery Challenge. No additional forms are necessary! Current EPA Food Recovery Challenge participants with active goals should contact EPA's Helpline at 800-EPA-WISE (372-9473) or wastewisehelp@epa.govexternal link to have their name listed on the U.S. Food Waste Challenge website and identified as a participant in both challenges. For those who join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge through participation in the EPA Food Recovery Challenge, their activities are the goals and actions they have committed to as part of EPA's Food Recovery Challenge.

U.S. Food Waste Challenge members who would like to join the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge will need to enter goals and report food waste diversion data annually into EPA’s data management system. EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge offers participants access to data management software and technical assistance to help them quantify and improve their sustainable food management practices. Participants 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.  To sign up, go to link

How does USDA define food waste in the context of the 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. 

What are the information sources for the factoids on the U.S. Food Waste Challenge homepage?

See sources.

What are the primary human-activity sources of methane?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, globally, over 60% of total CH4 emissions come from human activities.  Methane is emitted from industry, agriculture, and waste management activities. Natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest source of CH4 emissions from industry in the United States (approximately 37% in 2010).  Domestic livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels produce large amounts of CH4 as part of their normal digestive process and are the second largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. (21% in 2010). Landfills are the third largest source of CH4 emissions in the United States (16% in 2010).  Manure management is the fourth largest source in the U.S. (8% in 2010). Globally, the agricultural sector (enteric fermentation plus manure management) is the primary source of CH4 emissions.

What are the major components of landfills?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) produces an annual waste characterization report.external link The 2010 estimates rank food, plastics, and paper and paperboard as the top three components of landfills by weight.