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Government Agencies Call for Reducing U.S. Food Waste By 2030

Sep 17, 2015

USDA and EPA officials announced yesterday the nation’s first food waste reduction goals. According to experts and public health researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, the goals are ambitious and signal a will among individuals and government to fix a broken system. This will ultimately save money and resources. The goals call for a 50 percent reduction in food waste in the U.S. by 2030.

Currently, the U.S. wastes up to 40% of the post-harvest food supply, costing approximately $161.6 billion. Wasting food results in unnecessary environmental contamination and other effects, and is a waste of limited resources such as energy and water. For example, in North America and Oceania, we essentially “discard” about 35% of all the freshwater we use, in the form of wasted food.  Cutting that in half would be like pulling nearly 18% of the nation’s freshwater usage back out of the drain. Meanwhile, 1 in 7 Americans is food insecure.

“The USDA and EPA’s historic decision to call for a 50-percent reduction in wasted food by 2030 is commendable,” said Roni Neff, PhD, director of the Center’s Food System Sustainability and Public Health program and an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  San Francisco diverts 80% of its municipal waste away from landfills, and is working toward a goal of zero waste by 2020. In the UK, waste reduction leadership has achieved a 21% reduction in avoidable consumer food waste in only five years.

The USDA and EPA food waste reduction goals announcement comes one week before the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, which will address a range of issues including ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns to ending hunger and achieving food security, and will promote a global goal to reduce food waste by 50%. 

A letter of support signed by Neff and colleagues at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Forum for the Future, Green Sports Alliance, National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Composting Council, World Wildlife Fund advocates increased U.S. investment in infrastructure and other supports for reducing waste and facilitating food recovery. Additionally, the organizations note the need for a concrete plan with measurable benchmarks. Tracking progress will also require collection of solid baseline data and the development of a process, such as requiring biannual progress reports and oversight.  

“Ambitious goals lay the groundwork for ambitious action. But getting to 50% requires more than words,” said Neff.