Italy Just Passed Major Legislation to Stop Food Waste. Meanwhile the U.S. Tosses $161 Billion-Worth of Food a Year

By Elena Sheppard

Earlier this year, Italy passed new and much-needed legislation to help reduce the huge amount of food wasted by the country each year. According to the Italian government, the amount of food Italy wastes in a given years costs the nation approximately 12 billion euros annually. Looking more widely at Europe, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation says that, “the food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people.” Turning toward the United States, the amount of food wasted yearly is just as staggering.  

According to information provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it’s estimated that 30-40% of the American food supply is wasted in a given year. Economically, that settles in at around $165 billion in waste, and 133 billion pounds of food. With this amount of unconsumed food, we could be dramatically assisting the 48.1 million Americans who live in what are called “food insecure households.” This amount of food also does damage to our environment due to the large amount of methane that is emitted from food disposed of in landfills, rather than consumed or composted.  

It’s not just uneaten food in restaurants and households that lead to these high percentages of unconsumed food. Food waste also comes from unharvested crops, high aesthetic standards for food (i.e. people not wanting to buy a perfectly good but weirdly shaped peach), food wasted in grocery stores, distribution centers, and improperly disposed of.

We can do better, and America knows it. In 2013, the USDA along with the Environmental Protection Agency began the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to help grow  food waste reduction efforts. The country’s goal is to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030. The Challenge is approaching these efforts in three ways. 1. Reducing food waste — by promoting better storage developments, marketing initiatives, and shopping, ordering and cooking methods. 2. Recovering food — and distributing unconsumed food to hunger relief organizations. 3. Recycling food — by using it to feed animals, make fertilizer, and create compost and bioenergy. So far, initiatives have exceeded expectation.

On a global scale, roughly one third of the food produced annually goes to waste. To put that in other numerical context, that amounts to roughly $680 billion of waste in industrialized countries and $310 billion of waste in developing countries. Luckily, through legislation like that in Italy (and similar measures passed in France) as well as the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, there’s hope that those numbers will soon be far lower.

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