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Reducing Food Waste in America

Big Picture:

As a country, we're very wasteful. It's time we change that. According to Travel Weekly, roughly 63 million tons of food is wasted each year in the U.S., compared to the United Kingdom’s 10.2 million tons or China’s 61 million tons of food waste. Not only is food waste a loss of opportunity; it also contributes heavily to pollution. Federal and state governments should implement stronger incentives and better-developed programs to aid private businesses and households in reducing food waste.

Operative Definitions:

  1. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): As is stated directly on the organization’s website, the EPA is an executive agency within the U.S. government whose mission is “to protect human health and the environment.” The EPA was established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon. 

  2. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): The department of the U.S. government, established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, whose primary purpose is to create and enforce legislation related to the following areas: forestry, rural economic development, sustenance and farming. 

  3. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): An agency founded in 1906 alongside the Pure Food and Drug Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt that operates within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and, as stated by the mission statement on the organization’s website, protects public health by ensuring the safety, effectiveness and security of our Nation’s food supply.

  4. The food waste campaign: A global movement to significantly limit the amount of food wasted.


Important Facts and Statistics:

  1. One major strategy to reduce food wastage is the focused improvement of food harvest, storage, processing, transportation and retailing. 

  2. The average American throws away up to 40% of their food.


Five-Point Plan:

(1) Expand the food waste campaign to spread public awareness. Educate Americans on the dangers of food waste at the state level. As part of the campaign, incentivize Americans to donate their leftover foods, as opposed to throwing them away.

(2) Ensure, through EPA supervision, that businesses separate food waste from other waste types. Separating waste by the source allows more food waste to be composted, rather than added to landfills. Currently, much of food waste ends up directly in landfill sites, as stated by Travel Weekly, where it eventually rots and emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is no less than 28 times stronger than CO2.

(3) Cut taxes by 15% for farmers who sell their products locally. Existing export and import subsidies are only attractive to large agribusinesses and high-income corporations. By cutting down on these large farm subsidies and by reducing taxes for local farmers, transportation costs and the amount of food wasted from long-distance travel will decrease, yielding fresher produce with fewer preservatives.

(4) Require large agriculture companies to practice regenerative farming. Regenerative farming includes farming practices that emphasize soil fertility, nutrient density and crop resilience. See Carbon Emissions policy. Farmland will be used more efficiently and fewer resources will be needed.

(5) Have the USDA and FDA re-label food that is safe to consume past the “best-by date” as the “sell-by date.” The “consume-by date” will indicate that food is safe to consume. As a result, less food will be wasted and consumers will be protected from spoiled food.


Why This Initiative is Important:

Food distribution in the U.S. has become a prominent issue due to excessive wastefulness. This proposal significantly reduces landfill waste and combats climate change by decreasing harmful greenhouse gases. This initiative addresses hunger by discouraging food waste and recommending that households and establishments donate food as an alternative. Resources, such as land and water, will be more efficiently used, reducing environmental harm. At a local level, communities and consumers will benefit greatly from this plan by gaining access to both healthier and higher-quality produce.


Economic Impact (from our student economist team):

Reducing our nation’s food waste will reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with fewer natural and human resources being wasted. It will also help secure adequate food supplies for families. According to Rubicon, about $161 billion worth of food is wasted annually in the United States. Any reduction in this would ensure large savings for individuals and businesses. Requiring businesses to both compost and utilize regenerative farming would have large start-up costs, requiring businesses to invest in new technology and practices but would save money in the long term by reducing waste. Expanding educational campaigns can be achieved at a negligible cost to the government.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors.


The following student(s) worked on this nonpartisan proposal: Stella Bush, Emory University; Amanda Clegg, Texas A&M University.


The following individuals worked with our student interns and contributed expertise, wisdom and moral support to the development of this proposal: 

  1. Paul Watson: CEO and Founder, The Global Action Research Center. San Diego, CA.

  2. Zack Osborn: Student Research and Community Engagement Manager, University of California; San Diego’s Roger’s Urban Farmlab and the Bioregional Center for Sustainable Science, Planning and Design. San Diego County, CA.

  3. Sarah Boltwala-Mesina: Director, Food2Soil Composting Collective. San Diego County, CA.

  4. William Masters: Professor of Agricultural Economics, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University. Somerville, MA.

  5. Mike Campbell, agricultural executive and a former administrator at the University of California, Davis. Davis, CA.


Sources

Delman, Edward. “Should It Be Illegal for Supermarkets to Waste Food?” The Atlantic,  29 May 2015. www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/05/law-france-supermarkets-food-waste/394481/.

“National Waste & Recycling Association survey finds most Americans would compost if it was more convenient in their community.” National Waste & Recycling Association, 8 Jan. 2014. www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/national-wasterecycling-association-survey-finds-most-americans-would-compost-if-it-was-more-convenient-in-their-community-239232261.html.

The Carbon Underground and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative. “What is Regenerative Agriculture?” Regeneration International, 16 Feb. 2017. regenerationinternational.org/2017/02/24/what-is-regenerative-agriculture/.

“USDA and EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 4 Jun. 2013. https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2013/06/04/usda-and-epa-launch-us-food-waste-challenge.

“What governments, farmers, food businesses – and you – can do about food waste.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, 9 Jun. 2022, www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196377/icode/.

“Where Is Food Wasted?” Too Good To Go, 9 Jun. 2022 https://toogoodtogo.com/en-us/movement/knowledge/where-is-food-wasted



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