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Finally! The U.S. Takes Action To Reduce Food Waste

September 17, 2015

You’ve not doubt read about it, heard about it on the news, and even seen it happen. Still, it bears repeating: We waste a LOT of food.

As much as 31 percent of post-harvest food produced last year, valued at roughly $161 billion, was tossed in the trash, uneaten. Few of us are innocent when it comes to food waste, either: Perfectly edible food is trashed all along the food chain, from produce left to rot in the fields, to “blemished” or “imperfect” food discarded at distribution centers and retailers, to products that go bad in our cupboard or refrigerator at home.

The consequence of this is not only that mal- or undernourished people are being denied access to perfectly edible food, but also environmental. Food waste in landfills is a bigger contributor to harmful greenhouse gases than almost anything else we throw away.

If you haven’t watched comedian John Oliver’s informative and entertaining segment on food waste from earlier this summer, do so. Oliver correctly points out that the U.S. has done little, as a nation, to lessen the food that it is wasting.

Until yesterday, that is. On Wednesday, top officials from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the U.S. has set a goal to cut food waste in half by 2030. Previously, the USDA and EPA launched a Food Waste Challenge, which encouraged leaders and businesses across America to share best practices on strategies to reduce waste. The only downside of this challenge? It lacked any specific goal or deadline. Yesterday, the federal government remedied that problem by announcing the 2030 goal.

“Our new reduction goal demonstrates America’s leadership on a global level in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution, and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Added EPA director Gina McCarthy: “Let’s feed people, not landfills. By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources, and protect our planet for future generations. Today’s announcement presents a major environmental, social and public health opportunity for the U.S., and we’re proud to be part of a national effort to reduce the food that goes into landfills.”

How will it work? The USDA and EPA will continue to encourage private sector companies to set and strive toward goals for reducing their own food waste. Additionally, the groups announced Wednesday a campaign to educate consumers on the facts surrounding food waste, with tips on how families can curb the food they may be wasting. To get a head start, check out this list of things you can do right now to waste less food.

Yesterday’s announcement is certainly great news for the estimated 25 million Americans who would be fed by even a 15 percent reduction in food waste.

Photo credit: jbloom via Flickr

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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