- Food Waste was the second largest contributor to NYS landfills in 2010.
- More than 37 million tons of food waste was generated in the US in 2013. That is enough to fill the Empire State Building 36 times.
- The United States Department of Agriculture estimates between 30-40% of all food produced is wasted.
- 1 in 7 New Yorkers is food insecure.
- 90 percent of us throw food away before it has gone bad.
- 20 percent of the food we each purchase goes uneaten.
What do we mean by “Food Waste”?
There is no consensus currently on a definition for food waste. Several organizations, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Research Institute (WRI) each have slightly different definitions. For purposes of this Clearinghouse, we have chosen to adopt the definition provided in the Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data (ReFED) report:
Food Waste: any food that is grown and produced for human consumption but ultimately is not eaten. This includes both:
Excess Food: edible food that is not sold or used by its generator
Food Scraps: inedible food, trimmings from food prep, food-soiled paper and edible food that is not ultimately consumed by people
What is a sustainable food system?
Our food system is the interaction of processes that produces food for human consumption. This system is made up of all the steps from farm to fork and sustained by the interdependency of energy, water, information, and byproducts. A sustainable food system provides the food we need, expands our economy and increases resilience cross the entire food system without compromising the natural resources we depend on.
Losses occur at each stage of the supply chain, as is seen in the diagram to the left. In a sustainable food system, the ultimate goal is for these materials to be reduced, reused or recycled rather than being sent to a landfill. While some of this is already occurring across the state, it is estimated that close to 95% of food loss and waste is still ending up in a landfill, generating GHG emissions, rather than being a benefit to society.
It is clear that there is huge opportunity to reduce the amount of food being wasted and instead reduce, reuse or recycle that food via diversion from landfill. Although rates of food waste diversion are relatively low in the United States, there are many established methods of diversion to consider. The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has prioritized these diversion methods in what is known as the Food Recovery Hierarchy. The Hierarchy is an attempt to rank the most established food waste diversion methods from most to least preferred based on environmental, social and economic benefits. This ranking starts with reducing waste at the source, followed by feeding people, feeding animals, utilizing the waste for industrial uses, composting, and finally, given no other alternatives, landfilling and incineration.
Each diversion pathway has associated advantages, disadvantages and practicalities that are important to understand when considering diversion options. This Clearinghouse provides information on each, including details on the pathway, key things to consider, and how to get started.
Why Focus on the Food?
Only roughly 55 - 60% of the food that is produced is ultimately consumed in the United States. Each year $218 billion is spent growing, processing and transporting food that is never eaten, equating to over 50 million tons of food sent to landfill annually. There is a significant opportunity to recover this waste for a beneficial purpose.
While the food system encompasses energy, water, and materials, this Clearinghouse focuses on the material aspect of this system: the food. All food requires some amount of energy, water and other resources to produce, process and transport. Therefore addressing food waste on a materials level has a direct impact on reducing energy and water use, as well.
 ReFED “A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20%.” 2016