December 27, 2021

EPA Releases Report on Environmental Impact of Food Waste

EPA Releases Report on Environmental Impact of Food Waste

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste, to inform policymakers, researchers, and the public about the environmental impact of food waste. The report includes benefits to reduced food waste as well as knowledge gaps.

“Over one-third of the food produced in the United States is never eaten, wasting the resources used to produce it and creating a myriad of environmental impacts,” the report states. “Food waste is the single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the United States, comprising 24% and 22% of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively. This wasted food presents opportunities to increase food security, foster productivity and economic efficiency, promote resource and energy conservation, and address climate change.” 

This report reveals the climate and environmental impacts of producing, processing, distributing, and retailing food that is wasted and projects the environmental benefits of meeting the U.S. goal to prevent 50% of food waste by 2030, as indicated in the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Target 12.3. The report includes chapters focused on the environmental footprint of the U.S. food supply chain, the characterization of U.S. food loss and waste, the environmental footprint of U.S. food loss and waste, the environmental benefits of reducing U.S. food loss and waste, and U.S. food loss and waste in a global context. 

The report states that each year, U.S. food waste represents 140 million acres of agricultural land, 5.9 trillion gallons of blue water, 778 million pounds of pesticides, 14.3 billion pounds of fertilizer, 665 billion kWh energy, and 169 million MTCO2e GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions). For context, this represents an area of agricultural land equal to California and New York, enough water and energy to supply more than 50 million homes, the amount of fertilizer used in the U.S. to grow all plant-based foods for human consumption, and the greenhouse gas emissions of 42 coal-fired power-plants. 

To reduce food waste in the U.S., EPA recommends nationwide initiatives focusing on source reduction rather than recycling, food waste from households, restaurants, and the food processing sector, and waste of resource-intensive foods such as animal products and fruits and vegetables. 

The report concludes by stating the need for additional research on these five topics to support the development of successful food waste programs and policies: 

  1. Characteristics and unique drivers of U.S. food waste

  2. Method to more frequently track U.S. food waste

  3. Impact of waste of imported foods

  4. Interaction among food supply chain stages regarding food waste

  5. Food system trends that may impact food waste

Read the report here.