By now, you’ve surely heard about the environmental impact of food waste. But the scale of the problem is not as well known. In a recent report, the Natural Resources Defense Council came up with these admittedly inexact but eye-popping numbers:
Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all of that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. Methane emissions. Nutrition is also lost in the mix—food saved by reducing losses9 by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.
The problem is getting worse, not better. Jonathan Bloom, a journalist who has become perhaps the world’s leading on food waste, notes in American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) that the typical American now throws away his or her body weight in food each year and says:
Ominously, Americans’ per capita food waste has increased by 50 percent since 1974.
I’m a hawk when it comes to food waste. I’ve never considered the appearance of mold on a hunk of cheese reason to throw it away. I make batches of turkey soup from Thanksgiving leftovers. My children used to call me “the human garbage pail” because I scarfed up uneaten food from their plates. I was unembarassed. I almost find it painful to throw food away.
But personal vigilance alone will not solve the food waste problem, so I’m pleased to report that a couple of California entrepreneurs have come up with plan to reduce waste at a key juncture on the road from farm to table. Stuart Rudick, an investor in health and wellness businesses, and Anthony Zolezzi, a consultant, entrepreneur and author, have started a company called Food Star Partners, which uses a mobile phone app to alert supermarket customers when perishable produce is going on sale.