Now, more than ever, because many people are trying to avoid unnecessary trips to the grocery store, the level of food insecurity is increasing day by day, and lacking some looms, people are thinking about how to make full use of all the food in the fridge and pantry.
As shown in the joint agent Victory Reduces the Food Waste Initiative, it is very important to focus efforts to reduce the amount of food thrown to the household level, because we have long known that households collectively are the largest producers of food waste in the United States. If the US – and every city or state in it – wants to make a significant reduction in the amount of food wasted, the household is an important part of the puzzle.
The UK cuts household food waste per person by almost 11 percent in just three years. If the United States did the same thing, it would be enough to fill nearly 5 Empire State Buildings every year (after walking in the Empire State Building every day for 3 years, that’s a lot of food waste). The total US food waste producer in 2017 was 40,670. 000 tons. Empire State Building volume is 37 million cubic feet. Assuming 33.5lbs of food waste per cubic foot (range 22-45lbs, for this purpose, we use the midpoint), a 7% reduction in total food waste residue in the US would fill the imperial country building 4.6 times. But Americans dump the same amount of food per capita like we have for the past 20 years.
How do the British do it? Dealing with household food waste makes a big difference.
Food tastes good, while many don’t have enough food. But when food is wasted, it’s not just about food itself – wasting food also wasting all resources used to produce, store and transport food, like water, energy and labor. In addition, leftovers are a main contributor to climate change.
A new study describes how the British cut household food waste. WRAP, the authors of this study, cites three main reasons for the decline in the generation of UK household food waste:
1. Targeted public campaigns: Like wearing a seat belt, making everyone change their behavior is a difficult challenge. To help consumers reduce food, the UK launched a targeted campaign: Love Food Hate Waste. Based on insights gained from research and surveys, this campaign promotes actions that can have the greatest impact by emphasizing the most wasted food products in the UK, and the most wasting population.
Every day in England, for example, people throw away 20 million pieces of bread – mostly because of stale. New “Make the Toast Not Trash“The campaign encourages consumers to freeze bread, then make toast directly from frozen slices.
2. Labeling is improved: Confusion about food labels – which comes from several dates on the same package, inconsistent words, and lack of education around meaning – often causes consumers to discard food prematurely. In the UK, around 20 percent of avoidable household food waste is caused by label confusion. To deal with this problem, WRAP is working with the UK food industry to issue new labeling guidelines in 2017, and update them in 2019. This guide includes a specification that date labels must be on the front of the package, “Use By” will only appear on ingredients food that has the potential to pose a food safety risk, and “Best Before” must be used in most other cases only to show peak quality. Adoption of these best practices is tracked through periodic surveys of retailers. Additional survey and research results are used to continually update the guide with relevant labels and packaging instructions, such as removing the label completely from most fresh products.
3. Increased roadside organic collection: In 2018, the The British government was rolled out Weekly roadside organic collections for residents in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, soon became universal in England. Even in most households that are aware of food waste, there will always be leftover food that cannot be eaten, including the inedible portion of food that is best used if composted or anaerobically digested to turn organic waste into useful soil amendments . Making it easy for residents to recycle leftovers will help keep household leftovers from landfill.
The United States, however, has not seen this progress. In December 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency released the latest facts about municipal waste generation (with data until 2017). Data shows that food waste per capita between 2015 and 2017 remains the same – 4.76 pounds per person per week. If we want this number to go down, we must learn from Britain and dramatically increase our focus on residential food waste. Now is the time to fix this.
Here’s how the United States can catch up:
1. Change in target behavior: NRDC campaign, Save the Food, spreading awareness about food waste, offering tools and information that are beneficial to the community. While this campaign has greatly increased awareness, there is still a need for individuals (as well as other players in the food system) to take ownership of changes that will reduce their waste. We know that this can be tricky – the US has a large population and diverse communities that can respond to different messages well. Residential food waste is usually a product of good intentions – the desire to provide healthy and varied food choices, store enough food for emergencies, etc. – we don’t want to change motivation, only behavior that leads to wasting food. And we don’t know enough about what interventions worked – but now it’s time to try more.
We need more programs to help guide Americans so that good food is not wasted. Efforts are being made in the US to find this out – NRDC and the City of Denver are on integrating wasteful food prevention messages become outreach material for Denver residents, and National Academy of Sciences is conducting research to provide recommendations on tactics that can effectively make Americans reduce food waste, among many others.
Drawing lessons from the UK, we can also focus on food that is most wasted through campaigns. With coffee 1 out of 6 edible food is wasted in the NRDC study of households in three US cities, what about the campaign called “Good coffee, not bitter waste”?
Testing strategies and measuring results will require broad support and action from many people.
2. Standardize date labels and educate consumers: In the United States, more than 80 percent of consumers report that they threw food away prematurely due to confusion over the date label.
The problem is that date labels are not federally regulated, with a single exception for formula milk. For the most part, the date on the food label shows the manufacturer’s best estimate of when the product will be at top quality – it does not indicate anything related to food safety. That means it is up to the state, city and district to make their own rules where food must have a date label. Currently, 41 states plus the District of Columbia require date labels at least on some food items, even though the types of items and rules are different. Complicated.
But there is hope. In 2019, Food Date Labeling Act introduced, and if successful, will make the date label clear and consistent across the country. The law will limit date labels to “Best if Used By” to describe product quality, and “Use By” for a small number of products that are highly perishable or that might cause food safety problems. This standard labeling approach will allow consumers to easily distinguish whether dates indicate quality or safety. Equally important, if this law is passed, it will ensure that consumers understand the new labeling system.
Partner coalitions, including NRDC, have advocated date label reforms for years. In 2020, when we already saw child food insecurity rates quadrupled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we need to make sure no food is wasted because of confusion about its safety.
3. Have people make compost: Only 6.3 percent of food waste made in 2017 composted. Most end up at landfills, where food and other organic produce methane, a strong greenhouse gas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many cities reduced recycling and composting services for households. If we want to reduce the amount of food to be thrown away, we need to ensure that cities return and expand their organic recycling collection and processing services.
In the United Kingdom, packaging manufacturers are required to follow the manufacturer’s responsibility regulations, which ensure that they focus on reducing and recycling the materials they introduce into trade that enters municipal waste streams. To help ease the burden on municipal governments and taxpayers to finance waste systems, we need to bring producers into the circle (for example through producer responsibility laws) to share financial responsibility for recycling the products and packaging they introduce into trade and to participate in reducing the amount and complexity of materials in our waste stream.
In meeting these challenges, support for small-scale composting and community like this effort in Baltimore, must continue to grow. Through NRDC Food Problems Project, we are working with cities around the US to enhance this effort.
Programs in the US to deal with food waste are very important, but we still have a long way to go. If we want to cut food waste into landfills and incinerators in half by 2030 in the US, we must increase our attention to households. England has shown the world that it is possible. Let’s follow.
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