The U.S. has long recognized that food waste reduction efforts have a significant environmental and climate impact, beyond their economic impact. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste is the most common material sent to landfills.
As a result, food waste reduction has been a goal for the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for more than a decade. Back in September 2015, the organizations set a goal to cut food waste in half by the year 2030.
At the time, USDA was working with a 2010 baseline of approximately 133 billion pounds of food wasted each year – that’s 236 lb (107 kg) of food waste per person – at the retail and consumer level. By 2030, the agencies aim to reduce that waste to no more than 66 billion pounds.
As we move closer to 2030, it’s time to evaluate just how far we’ve gone – and how much more work needs to be done to achieve this notable food waste reduction goal.
Progress to 2030 food waste reduction goal
So how close are we to actually achieving this food loss and waste reduction goal? Well, that depends how you measure it.
In 2021 the EPA announced a shift in how it interprets food waste, bringing it in alignment with the United Nations’ Sustainable Goals Target 12.3. “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.”
This shift is the result of a much bigger understanding of food waste, as it seeks to drive more responsible production and consumption of food and other waste alongside more environmentally friendly disposal methods. As the EPA points out, more than 85% of the greenhouse gas emissions created by food waste occur before disposal through production and transportation.
As a result of this shift, the target for food waste reduction has grown. Even with this bigger target, the U.S. has shown some progress in its food waste reduction efforts. The 2021 UN Environment Programme Food Waste Index Report determined that the U.S. has reduced its food waste in the following sectors:
- 59 kg (130 lb) of food waste per capita at the household level.
- 64 kg (141 lb) of food waste per capita within the food service industry.
- 16 kg (35 lb) of food waste per capita through the retail sector.
Altogether, that amounts to roughly 139 kg (306 lb) per person, which is roughly 22 lb per person.
How to take action and reduce food waste
There’s much more work to be done when it comes to achieving the 2030 food waste reduction goal. For the EPA and USDA, this work is being encouraged across a number of fronts:
- Businesses: USDA and EPA launched their Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions in 2016 to encourage voluntary food waste reduction commitments from corporations.
Today, more than 45 organizations – including national grocery chains, well known food producers, and food and beverage retail outlets – are lowering the amount of food wasted. With annual reports, these organizations also provide valuable templates for how smaller companies can lower their food waste.
- Individuals: Organizations like the USDA provide a wealth of resources to help American families understand the scope of this problem and take steps to reducing food loss. However, progress here is primarily driven by consumers’ awareness of food waste as a problem.
When it comes to awareness, a 2022 report from the think tank Capgemini Research Institute found that 72% of consumers are more conscious of their level of food waste today, compared to 33% before the pandemic. While this awareness is related in part to the growing conversation around climate change, it’s further bolstered by high levels of inflation driving changes in purchasing habits.
While consumers are taking steps to adjust food purchasing, it’s not all about spending less. The Capgemini report indicates that consumers are looking to purchase from organizations that demonstrate clear action in food waste reduction – and are willing to put their money into these businesses in support.
- Communities: Regulations popping up across the country are mandating a shift to more responsible food waste disposal. In 2021, lawmakers introduced more than 50 bills across 18 states involving food waste management. Communities that want to make this move on their own terms may consider mimicking the strategies laid out by these regulations as well as government incentives. These include off-site composting facilities, tax incentives for food donations, and trash rate increases intended to reduce landfill disposal.
Biodigesters can support food waste reduction goals
While the UN’s pre-consumer approach to food loss is important for driving the food waste reductions needed to mitigate climate change, this can be only one piece of the overall puzzle. Businesses, institutions, and consumers need access to methods for disposing of food in a more environmentally sustainable way as well.
Onsite aerobic biodigesters play a key role in this solution, because they can help organizations responsibly manage food waste from both angles. This equipment breaks down food waste through the introduction of all-natural microorganisms in a process that releases none of the damaging methane emitted in landfills. More impactful yet, this equipment gathers data around this waste that can help organizations make more strategic food purchasing decisions.
There’s much work that needs to be done to meet the tough 2030 food waste reduction goals. To learn more about how you can support this effort, visit Power Knot’s Center of Sustainability. Or, contact us to find the right biodigester for your facility’s needs.