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Feds Set First National Food Waste Reduction Goal

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Food waste in the U.S. is a big problem, accounting for about 31 percent of the nation’s food supply, or 133 billion pounds. It makes up 21 percent of U.S. municipal solid waste in landfills, and as a result it accounts for the lion's share of landfill methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 21 times that of carbon dioxide -- and landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

Given the size of the problem, it is a major deal that last week U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the nation’s first national food waste reduction goal. The goal is a 50 percent reductionin food waste by 2030. The federal government is leading a new partnership with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and state and tribal governments to reduce food waste and loss.

“Our new reduction goal demonstrates America's leadership on a global level in in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution, and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste,” Vilsack said in a statement.

This isn't the first time the federal government has worked on the issue of food waste. In 2013, the Department of Agriculture and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which gives organizations and leaders the place to share practices for reducing, recovering and recycling food waste. By the end of last year, the challenge had over 4,000 active participants, well over the goal of 1,000 participants by 2020.

Food manufacturers lead the way in food reduction

A 2013 analysis of food waste in the U.S., conducted by the U.S. the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, found that there is a big gap between food waste levels by food manufacturers and the retail sector. Although the food manufacturing sector in 2011 created more food waste, most of it (94.6 percent) was diverted from landfills through initiatives such as donations to food banks. The retail sector only diverted 55.6 percent from landfills

Kellogg Co. is an example of a food manufacturer committed to reducing food waste. Kris Charles, vice president of Kellogg, said of the federal government’s recent food waste goal: “We support the USDA and EPA in their efforts to launch the nation's first food waste reduction goals and are committed to doing our part to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and to reduce food losses along the production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses by 2030.”

Kellogg has the goal to reduce food waste to landfill by 20 percent by 2015. The company participates in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, and it has already reduced food waste -- by 41.5 percent from 2005 to 2009, to be exact. In Europe, Kellogg pledged to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2015, and four of its European plants have already met the goal. Three plants in other parts of the world, including two in the U.S., send zero waste to landfill.

Image credit: Flickr/jbloom

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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