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Food waste in the United States, roughly estimated at between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply, has far reaching impacts:

This range is established on the basis of two peer-reviewed estimates of food loss and waste in the U.S.: 

  • The upper number comes from Hall et al.’s 40-percent estimate of loss and waste derived using a validated mathematical model of metabolism relating body weight to the amount of food eaten (Hall KD, Guo J, Dore M, Chow CC (2009) The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. PLoS ONE 4(11): e7940. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007940 ( link
  • The lower number is an extrapolation from the USDA’s Economic Research Service’s estimate of food loss at the retail and consumer level of 31 percent in 2010 based on the food availability data (Economic Research Service, Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data System, 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. ERS’s food loss number of 31 percent is therefore an overestimate of food waste in that it includes natural shrinkage and cooking loss.  However, this estimate does not include food losses on both the farm and between the farm and retailer. Had these losses been included, estimated total food loss in the United States would likely have topped the 31 percent estimate, making the 31 percent estimate a lower bound. 

This 30-40 percent estimate is in line with other estimates of food loss and waste. For example, using different sources, Godfray et al. (2010) conclude that “Roughly 30-40% of food in both the developed and developing worlds is lost to waste, though the causes behind this are very different.”  (H. Charles J. Godfray, John R. Beddington, Ian R. Crute, Lawrence Haddad, David Lawrence, James F. Muir, Jules Pretty, Sherman Robinson, Sandy M. Thomas, Camilla Toulmin.  2010.  Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People.  Science, Vol. 327 no. 5967 pp. 812-818  DOI: 10.1126/science.1185383 link

Natural Resources

  • The land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food is wasted.

Economic Resources

Greenhouse Gas Emissions