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avoidable food waste

Did you know that about a third of the world’s food is wasted annually?

While some food waste is unavoidable, a large portion of the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted around the world each year could be avoided. Addressing this issue means there’s an opportunity to improve environmental sustainability and face the global food insecurity crisis – but how?

The key to finding sustainable solutions is understanding the difference between avoidable and unavoidable food waste, which as their name suggests, is the difference between edible food that’s thrown away and inedible food that can’t be sold or eaten.

This article explores this topic in more detail, outlining how much food waste is avoidable, how to reduce avoidable food waste, and innovative solutions to unavoidable waste.

Key Takeaways

  • Avoidable food waste is food that could have been consumed if properly managed, which includes waste from imperfect produce, leftovers, overpurchasing, and poor storage techniques, among others.
  • Unavoidable food waste is food that was never intended for consumption, such as meat bones, eggshells, and fruit and vegetable peels.
  • Avoidable food waste can be prevented through increased awareness, a better understanding of expiration dates, improved storage techniques, government policies, and changes in consumer behavior.
  • While unavoidable food waste can’t be prevented, there are ways to mitigate waste, such as composting, turning food to energy, and partnering with a waste management company.

The Landscape of Food Waste in US

Food waste is a global issue, with around 1.4 billion hectares, or 28% of the world’s total agricultural area, used to produce food that is lost or wasted. That’s equivalent to the combined size of the U.S., India, and Egypt, all used to grow food that is never consumed.

Food waste in the U.S. is a huge issue on its own, with 30-40% of the food supply wasted. This has huge repercussions, including the significant financial impact of food waste on individuals and businesses. Financial loss is experienced at every stage of the supply chain, including manufacturers, retailers, and consumers, annually costing an estimated $218 billion, or 1.3% of GDP. With almost 40% of the food supply wasted, that equates to 325 pounds of waste per person each year.

And unfortunately, the environment is also suffering from excess food waste. Food waste affects the environment in various ways, including its role in the degradation of land, a loss of biodiversity, and the waste of natural resources. Perhaps its most notable consequence, though, is its contribution to greenhouse gases. As food is dumped in landfills, it goes through a decomposition process that produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

But food waste isn’t only an economic and environmental issue; it has bigger social implications that can’t be ignored. In the U.S., there are 44 million people facing food insecurity. As mentioned, some food waste is unavoidable. However, avoidable food waste could be donated to the millions of people who are food insecure.

Since a large portion of waste can be prevented, there’s a critical need to determine what’s avoidable, what’s not, and how to address it.

how much food waste is avoidable
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The Difference Between Avoidable and Unavoidable Food Waste

The avoidable crisis of food waste must be addressed to raise awareness, create innovative solutions, and combat the economic, environmental, and social consequences that it provokes.

So, what’s the difference between avoidable and unavoidable food waste?

Keep reading to learn key differences and real-world examples.

What is Avoidable Food Waste?

Avoidable food waste is food that was edible at some point before disposal. There are many reasons why food may be discarded, such as poor storage, bulk purchasing, leftovers from a meal, poor customer forecasting in food businesses, expired foods, or blemishes on produce.

Examples of Avoidable Food Waste

The most wasted foods due to avoidable food waste include:

  • Bread
  • Milk
  • Potatoes
  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • And so much more!

These are some of the common food products that are wasted, but avoidable food waste also includes a variety of dairy products, meat, and fruits and vegetables. With many of these products used daily in households and establishments, why are they so commonly wasted?

One of the key causes of avoidable food waste is confusion over expiration dates. Since product dating is not required by federal regulations, there’s a large variation in how expiration dates are created and the different types of labels used by businesses. With few campaigns and education towards different product labels, many consumers misinterpret “sell-by” and “use-by” dates. This confusion causes healthy products to be thrown away before they’ve actually expired.

Lack of awareness is also a huge contributor. Not only are many individuals and businesses not aware of the constantly growing food waste crisis, but there seems to be a general lack of understanding of proper storage techniques, portion sizes, and how to efficiently prepare different food products—all things that contribute to this issue.

avoidable and unavoidable food waste
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What’s Unavoidable Food Waste?

Unavoidable food waste is waste produced from food that was never intended for consumption. In other words, it’s food that we can’t eat.

While this type of waste is, as the name suggests, unavoidable, there are ways to mitigate its environmental impact. We can do this through different waste management strategies that aim to keep waste out of landfills, such as composting and recycling.

What is an example of unavoidable food waste?

Unavoidable food waste includes:

  • Meat bones
  • Eggshells
  • Fruit and vegetable peels
  • Tea bags
  • Pits and seeds

How Much Food Waste is Avoidable?

Huge changes must be made in the supply chain and in consumer behavior to fight the avoidable crisis of food waste.

Food waste in the supply chain occurs at all stages, including at the production, retail, and consumer levels. At the production level, global food waste on farms amounts to 15.3% of the food produced around the world. Many factors contribute to this waste, such as poor technology and farming techniques, overproduction, low market prices, and extreme sorting and grading processes to meet high aesthetic standards.

These high standards come with the expectation that ugly food is discarded, which is enforced at all levels of the supply chain. In fact, more than 20 billion pounds of cosmetically imperfect or unharvested food are wasted each year in the United States. This is a key factor in reducing avoidable waste, as many fruits and vegetables are discarded due to blemishes and imperfections.

This demand reflects the need to change consumer behavior. Without such high expectations, waste due to imperfect produce would significantly decrease.

Even more, statistics show that 43% of the overall waste comes from households, and 40% of waste is generated in restaurants, grocery stores, and food service companies. Drastic changes in consumer behavior could mean less pressure to discard “ugly” produce, more awareness on how to properly store products and manage waste, and strategies to reduce the approximately 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste produced by restaurants each year in the United States.

Waste can also be prevented with better supply chain management. With overproduction being a large contributor to waste, improved communication and better forecasting between producers and retailers can reduce waste before it even reaches consumers.

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Reducing Avoidable Food Waste

Now that we know how waste is produced, how can we reduce it?

At the consumer level, government campaigns are a great way to increase understanding of food waste and how it’s generated. For instance, a better understanding of expiration dates means consumers and organizations could prevent piles of healthy foods from being put in landfills. Aside from educating consumers on how to read expiration dates, it’s important to teach them how to determine if a product is expired based on sight and smell.

To reduce overall household food waste, there are certain things consumers must know in order to make a difference. This includes how to properly store food to extend its shelf life, increased awareness around over-purchasing and over-serving, and repurposing waste where possible.

To decrease waste due to poor supply chain management, technology can be used in multiple areas, such as improving transportation logistics and forecasting, enhancing storage techniques, and regulating temperature and humidity.

There are also numerous policies that governments can implement to reduce food waste, such as setting reduction goals and supporting waste-to-energy projects. The increase in food waste laws in the U.S., which contribute to the United States’ goal to reduce food loss and waste in the U.S. by 50% by 2030, includes state- and city-wide regulations. These laws and initiatives vary, but often include limits on how organizations manage their food waste and tax initiatives to encourage organizations to use better waste mitigation strategies. Over time, we expect to see more policies and initiatives.

Cooperating with food donation programs is another great initiative, as it helps prevent waste and addresses the food insecurity crisis in the United States. Thanks to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, organizations can now donate food without being held liable if it causes harm to recipients. This encourages individuals and organizations to donate their food rather than put it in landfills.

avoidable vs unavoidable food waste
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Tackling Unavoidable Food Waste

Tackling avoidable and unavoidable food waste comes with different challenges. While the goal of avoidable food waste is to reduce it all together, unavoidable food waste can only be handled with proper waste management techniques.

This can be done through food waste recycling, the process of converting waste into useful materials and products. Food waste recycling is a broad term that encompasses many sustainable techniques, such as composting food waste. Composting is a strategy that converts waste into nutrient-rich soil that can be reutilized.

Turning food waste to energy is another great way to divert food from landfills and create a renewable energy source. There are various benefits to converting food waste to biogas, such as mitigating potential groundwater contamination and minimizing the need for traditional waste disposal methods.

When looking for a solution, we also recommend checking local initiatives. Some cities are implementing large-scale programs to divert organic waste from landfills. For example, San Francisco’s implementation of a citywide composting program has significantly reduced the city’s landfill waste and produced high-quality compost. Since every city is different, check with your local organizations for initiatives.

While there are various techniques to choose from, many have two important factors in common: advanced food waste technology and a reliable waste management partner. The role of technology in waste management strategies is crucial, as many procedures are only possible due to advanced software and cutting-edge techniques. On the other hand, creating a partnership with a waste management company helps high-waste organizations stay on track with their reduction goals. Waste management companies have the knowledge and technology to offer organizations different solutions that cater to their specific needs.

Wrapping Things Up

Understanding the difference between avoidable and unavoidable food waste is the first step to fighting the food waste crisis. To reduce waste in the United States and around the world, there needs to be a comprehensive approach that involves consumers, businesses, and policymakers.

And since not all waste is avoidable, businesses should address food waste by partnering with a food waste management company. At Shapiro, we offer waste management solutions that are environmentally friendly and cost-efficient. By using advanced technology and working closely with our customers to understand their goals and requirements, we create sustainable solutions to mitigate waste.

Contact us today to discuss our waste management services.

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