Each year, between 30-40% of food in the United States is wasted. This big number corresponds to a big problem—with a startling impact. Wasted food can end up in landfills, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas. The resources that went into growing that wasted food are likewise wasted, including water, labor, processing, packaging, transportation, and storage. Food waste is also a moral concern, particularly in a country where as many as 42 million people experience food insecurity.
Roughly 31% of wasted food comes from consumers and retailers. Consumers typically waste food simply by buying too much and throwing it out. The retail sector includes grocers, restaurants, hotels, catering, and other businesses that sell or provide food. They waste food in a variety of ways, from over-ordering to tossing out produce that doesn’t have a perfect appearance, even if it’s safe to eat.
Shelf Engine analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent Wasted Food Report to better understand where this retail food waste ends up. The EPA’s wasted food data was compiled from an extensive literature review of numerous academic studies, government reports, and surveys. Together these sources were used to create an estimate for the amount of food waste that came from the retail sector and what happened to it after being tossed. Shelf Engine ranked the most common destinations for retail food waste — some of which may come as a surprise.
While a substantial percentage of this food waste does go to beneficial use for feeding animals, growing crops, or creating energy, the majority still ends up in landfills, where nutrients are unable to reabsorb into the soil. Instead, the food waste rots and produces methane gas, which is responsible for 20% of global warming. Keep reading to learn more about where food waste really ends up.