Percentage of Food Waste

Report Highlights

  • About 30-40% of all US food goes to waste each year.
  • Food accounts for 22 percent of all municipal solid waste.
  • Over four in five Americans discard good food because of expiration labels.
  • The USDA and EPA want to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.
  • Homes make up the largest source of food waste at 43%.
  • Another 40% of food waste comes from grocery stores and restaurants.
  • Farms are the source of 16% of food waste.
  • Manufacturers only produce about 2% of all food waste.
  • Commercial food waste accounts for 61% of all food waste.
  • Food waste in homes makes up the remaining 39%.

More statistics: Grocery Store Food Waste , US Chicken Consumption, US Egg Consumption.

Food waste statistics

General Food Waste

Food waste is a significant issue, and it affects everything from the environment to our wallets.

Americans waste food throughout the year, but the numbers spike around the holidays, probably due to an increase in food consumption.

Percentage of Food Waste in America:

  • Food waste causes the release of about 8% of all greenhouse gasses worldwide.
  • About 38% of bread and other grain products will be lost to food waste each year.
  • Americans pour about a fifth (20%) of all milk down the sink.
  • Almost half of all fruits and vegetables won’t make it to the table.
  • At the retail level, 12% of food gets wasted due to cosmetic imperfections.
  • Another 28% goes to waste at the consumer level, also due to appearance.
  • Americans waste roughly 35% of all edible Thanksgiving turkey.
  • Food waste increases by as much as 35% around the holidays due to grocery surpluses and leftovers.
  • People throw out about a pound of food per day.
  • The average American household wastes about 32% of its food.
  • Food waste is a leading cause of freshwater pollution in the US.
  • About 25% of freshwater goes to waste due to food waste.

Supply Chain Food Waste

The supply chain is a surprisingly large source of food waste, from the farm to the manufacturing plant to the distribution.

Quality and appearance standards are a big part of the problem, and the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help.

  • Anywhere from 21 to 33% of the water used for farming produces food that goes to waste.
  • Roughly 18% of all cropland goes to producing food that no one will eat.
  • About a third of all manufacturing-related food waste becomes animal feed.
  • During the COVID-19 lockdowns, manufacturers had to slaughter thousands of animals but couldn’t send them on to restaurants or grocery stores.
  • Cutting off edible parts of food, from skins to crusts, accounts for most food waste at the manufacturing stage.
  • If a buyer rejects a shipment, the manufacturer will usually toss it if they can’t find someone to accept the food.
  • Food buyers reject anywhere from 2 to 5% of all shipments.
  • Marine fisheries waste about 8% of all fish caught in a year.
  • About 16 to 32% of fish American commercial fishing boats return to the ocean are dying or already dead.
  • The average discard rate for tropical shrimp trawling is 27%.
  • Farmers may not harvest all of their crops either due to weather, disease, or pests, so they’ll often farm more than necessary.
  • Despite food donation programs, donating unused crops can be more expensive than it’s worth.
  • Farms lose about 20 billion pounds of crops.
  • Strict produce requirements lead to a lot of loss at the produce packing stage.
  • The manufacturing stage is responsible for about two billion pounds of food loss.

Grocery Food Waste

Not all food produced reaches a grocery store, but reaching the store doesn’t guarantee someone will eat it.

Grocery stores can contribute significantly to food waste, even if wasting food hurts their bottom line.

  • The average store sells 31,000 items but has to dispose of items that they can’t sell before they go bad.
  • Since banning food waste in Vermont, groceries stores in the state have donated an extra 40% of food.
  • Unsold fruits and vegetables cost grocery stores about $15 billion per year.
  • Retail operations lose more perishable items, such as meat, produce, and baked goods.
  • Short shelf lives can also lead to food waste at the grocery store.
  • Even if a grocery store donates excess food, the donations may be too large for a food bank to take in.

Restaurant Food Waste

Restaurants want to keep things fresh and make food look good, but that can lead to overproduction and other causes of food waste.

However, consumers can also be part of the problem if they order too much food and don’t take it home to eat the leftovers.

  • Eating out contributes to about $162 billion of wasted food and other related costs.
  • Americans spend about $3,000 per year to eat out at restaurants.
  • Restaurants waste about 40% of food before the food has a chance to reach a customer.
  • Customers leave about 55% of edible leftovers at the restaurant.
  • Diners often eat only about 83% of their meal, though this may be due in part to large portion sizes.
  • Restaurants can’t legally donate food from all-you-can-eat buffets, so it’s a significant contributor to food waste.
  • Improper storage and over-preparing foods are two more significant causes of food waste at restaurants.
  • Preparing food up until the restaurant closes is a particularly big issue.
  • Increases in portion sizes have contributed to an increase in food waste at restaurants in the recent past.

Household Food Waste

  • Most food waste from the home mostly comes from food spoiling (about 66%).
  • Serving too much food or overcooking the food accounts for the remaining third.
  • Poor planning and overbuying of groceries can also contribute to the problem.
  • Portion sizes in cookbooks have increased by about 36% since 2006.
  • Meanwhile, more than 80% of people in the US toss perfectly good food if it’s past the sell-by or best-by date.
  • Household food loss wastes about eight times as much in energy as food loss at earlier stages of the supply chain.
  • About 88% of Americans claim they try to reduce food waste at home.
  • Meanwhile, 71% of people try not to buy too much food, and they try to eat what they do buy before it goes bad.
  • Roughly 34% of Americans try to share food before it goes bad if they can’t eat it all.

Economic Effects of Food Waste

Food waste can have an effect on your wallet, and that can sting for people who don’t make a lot of money.

From food insecurity to packaging issues, our food waste has financial consequences.

  • After France banned food waste, donations increased by 30%, so the US may find similar results.
  • Roughly 12.5% of Americans struggle to afford food even with all of the food waste.
  • Overall, about 17% of people in the US are food insecure, and a third of that is children.
  • Food insecurity increased by about 42% during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Reducing food waste by 15% could feed an additional 25 million people per year.
  • With an average annual food bill of $16,500 per family, up to 9.6% of that will go to waste ($1,600).
  • Clarifying expiration labels could reduce food waste by up to 20%.
  • Americans spend about 6.4% of their income on food, which is much lower than in other countries and may contribute to a lack of care when it comes to waste.
  • Changing immigration laws have led to labor shortages that have caused some farmers to shut down their farms.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns caused farms and manufacturing plants to close due to finances or the fact that workers became ill.

Other Food Waste Statistics

There are many other statistics about food waste in America that don’t fit into certain categories.

Consider the following statistics, from environmental effects to energy usage.

  • To match population growth, food production needs to increase by 70% by 2050 but also needs to be more efficient to reduce waste.
  • Food waste can produce methane that’s 86 times more potent compared to carbon dioxide.
  • About 4% of all greenhouse gasses the US produces comes from food waste.
  • Food waste increased by 8% per capita between 2010 and 2017.
  • From 1960 to 2018, food waste increased by 50.8 million tons.
  • Roughly 36% of Americans have reduced their food waste since the initial COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • Also since the pandemic, just over half (51%) of Americans plan to waste less food.
  • Food production uses about 15.7% of all energy, much of which is wasted with food waste.
  • We only recover about 10% of food waste each year.
  • Awareness of the problem of food waste increased by 205% between 2011 and 2016.
  • A lack of study on food waste may have contributed to part of the problem.
  • One survey found that 75% of people take food waste seriously.
  • People only compost about 5% of food waste.
  • Not many people know about the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects donors in case they donate food that people can’t eat, but it could save a lot of food waste.
  • About 41% of Americans understand how much food goes to waste.
  • Most of the food waste in the US is food that’s perfectly safe to eat.