Food Waste: Why It’s a Problem

Food waste is a significant problem in the United States and the rest of the world. Currently, there is a huge discrepancy between the amount of food that is wasted globally and the number of people who suffer from food insecurity. On a global scale, more than one third of the food that is produced goes to waste, and about 28 billion pounds of food is wasted each year in the United States alone (Niesenbaum 2017). Food waste that ends up in landfills decomposes anaerobically, which releases greenhouse gases such as methane into the atmosphere and contributes to the harmful pollution of our air (Niesenbaum 2017). In addition to harming the environment and disrupting the carbon cycle through the emission of greenhouse gases, food waste impacts the millions of people who have limited access to food. Though roughly 40% of food produced in the U.S. is wasted each year, the USDA Economic Research Service (2016) reports that 12.3% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2016, and the Food Security Information Network (2017) reports that roughly 108 million people suffered from food insecurity on a global scale in 2016. Food waste is a global problem because it denies millions of people access to a sufficient amount and quality of food while perpetuating the pollution of our air with greenhouse gas emissions.

Food is being produced and wasted at an unsustainable rate. One aspect of sustainability is the “protection of natural systems and biodiversity through the use of resources in a way that maximizes renewal, encourages reuse, and minimizes waste.” However, global food waste harms natural systems because it disrupts the carbon cycle through the release of methane as a result of anaerobic decomposition of food. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Wastage Footprint Summary Report (2013), food waste also negatively impacts biodiversity because the global mass production and wastage of food perpetuates deforestation and single-crop farming at the agricultural level, and overhunting and overfishing at the species level (47). Additionally, the anaerobic decomposition of food waste releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thereby disrupting the carbon and nitrogen cycles and decreasing biodiversity. Sustainability aims to minimize waste, yet food waste constitutes roughly 15% of the total garbage produced in the United States (Niesenbaum 2017). Food waste is even more prevalent in supermarkets in the U.S., with roughly 63% of their waste comprising of food products (Niesenbaum 2017).

Source: Food Security Information Network, using data from the March 2017 Global Report on Food Crises.

Another aspect of sustainability is the “provision of equitable economic development and opportunity without undermining people’s capacity to meet their own needs in the present and future,” as well as the “elevation of human well-being standards.” However, food waste contributes to the inequitable distribution of food across the world, leaving millions of people to suffer from food insecurity. This disproportionate access to food does not reflect equitable opportunity, nor does it elevate human well-being standards. Rather, it provides some sectors of the population with food access that wildly surpasses their basic needs, leaving the rest of the population to struggle to come even remotely close to meeting their own needs.

My objective is to explore sustainable solutions to the global issue of food waste. I aim to discover and analyze methods of sustainability that reduce the carbon footprint of food waste and improve the accessibility and equitability of food distribution across the globe. However, approaching solutions to global food waste involves analyzing its causes from different perspectives depending on geography. Though developed and developing countries produce roughly the same amount of food waste, the actual occurrences of food waste differ along the supply chain. Developed countries such as the United States typically generate food waste at the point of sale (such as food waste from supermarkets and restaurants) and at the hands of the consumer (such as household food waste), while developing countries typically lose food after harvest and during processing (Niesenbaum 2017). Thus, sustainable solutions to food waste in developed countries must focus on sources where food is sold, prepared, and consumed, such as supermarkets, restaurants, and other institutional food services (including college campuses), as well as individual households where consumers waste food (Niesenbaum 2017). On the other hand, sustainable solutions to food waste in developing countries requires the improvement of harvest and processing techniques, as well as post-harvest storage and transportation (Niesenbaum 2017). My goal is to explore and promote sustainable solutions to food waste that focus on the specific issues and needs in various locations across the world in order to reduce food waste on a global scale and create a more sustainable planet for our future.


Works Cited

Niesenbaum, Richard A. 2017. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Unpublished book, Oxford University Press.

United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2016. “December 2016 Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement.” Retrieved from

Food Security Information Network. 2017. “Global Report on Food Crises 2017: Executive Summary.” Retrieved from

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2013. “Food Wastage Footprint, Impacts on Natural Resources: Summary Report.” Retrieved from

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