A: There’s no one reason—or solution—for food waste. It is a complicated series of circumstances and actions throughout the supply chain. In general, I do think waste is an inherent problem when operating at the scale that our food system does, and a big part of that has to do with customer expectations. We’re now used to having a lot of choice, getting what we want, when we want it, and if we’re not able to get it from one business, we can easily find another. Businesses know this, and they have adjusted their operations to accommodate it, which generally means having more inventory on hand.
Historically, the critical issue with the food system was that it was producing too little. It has only been relatively recently with the industrialization of the food supply that the problem of surplus has been an issue. Yet, sadly, even while we produce more food than ever before, social factors make it so that not everyone has enough to eat. Taking advantage of overproduction to feed the entire population is imperative—especially as the population is growing, and climate change is making our agricultural production less efficient. There is already so much surplus throughout the system that even if we prioritize making sure that everyone has nutritious, edible food to eat, there will still be spoilage, byproducts, and many other areas of food waste reduction for us to focus on.
ReFED believes that the biggest changes we can make in the next ten years to reduce food loss and waste in our economy include:
- Increasing investment in food waste reduction: We need to prioritize investment in food waste reduction solutions; we’ve analyzed more than 40 of them so far, and there are dozens more that we are working on. We know how to solve food waste, we just need to implement those solutions.
- Implementing food waste policies and regulations: Governments can play a crucial role in reducing food waste by implementing policies and regulations that incentivize waste reduction, such as tax incentives for food donation or landfill fees and restrictions. A lot of interesting policies are being enacted on the state level, and the federal government has also been working on the issue in a bipartisan fashion.
- Expanding food donation: The expansion of food donation programs is a key solution to reducing food waste. This can be achieved by strengthening food recovery infrastructure and providing incentives to food businesses to donate surplus food. About 1 in 10 Americans are food insecure, yet the equivalent of approximately 149 billion meals goes uneaten each year.
- Educating consumers: Consumers are the largest generators of surplus food; nearly half of the annual total happens at the household level, so it’s critical that they are educated about proper food management skills. But it’s also important to note that this doesn’t mean they are the only ones to blame for all that they waste. Businesses also have a responsibility to make sure that they provide food to their customers in a way that makes it easy, affordable, and convenient for them to waste less.
- Utilizing surplus food as a resource: We can reduce the amount of food that ends up going to landfill or other waste destinations by utilizing it as a resource through upcycling, composting, and anaerobic digestion, which can produce a range of food and non-food products.
By implementing these changes, we can make significant progress in reducing food loss and waste, while also creating social, economic, and environmental benefits.