The Environmental Impact Of Wasted Food

Think twice before you throw away those leftovers. This infographic illustrates how wasted food has an impact that ripples across the environment.

We wrote last week about our giant food waste problem. Here’s more fuel for the fire: an infographic from U.K. food industry magazine Next Generation Food that illustrates the environmental impact of wasted food.

The infographic includes some remarkable statistics taken from a peer-reviewed study about food waste in the U.S. Waste has increased by about 50% since 1974, and now accounts for nearly 40% of all food produced in the U.S. Across the supply chain, we lose 1,400 kilocalories per head per day, or 150 trillion kilocalories each year (kilocalories are the "calories" you see on the back of food packs). Food waste accounts for a quarter of the freshwater supply, and 300 million gallons of oil a year. That’s a lot of wasted resources at a time of water shortages and higher gas prices. The U.S. consumed 6.9 billion barrels of oil last year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we did something with the waste other than throwing it in landfills, where it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Food accounts for 25% of methane produced from landfills, which emit 20% of methane overall. Something to chew on.

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  • dkliman

    All my food waste goes into my worm box composting system. The worm castings that I get as a result are then put into my garden, where they fertilize all my flowers, trees, vegetables and other plants. I'd say I'm happy with the results.

  • emmawoodcock

     I hope you mean your food scraps go in the worm box compost, the point is that we should not be wasting food whether it is landfilled or composted, it's still waste.  I eat everything I make, and only buy unpackaged fruit and veg, so the only waste is extremely minimal.

  • blake steel

    The reason for the waste is that food is perishable, we can stock it/freeze it/use it/etc but eventually its gone. Producing more than we consume is actually a sign of a healthy agriculture system, not a weak one. Weak ones like subsistence agriculture where the people produce just enough to survive on leads to famines. In addition, sending food to third world countries does not solve their famine. As the saying goes, if you give a man a fish he'll eat for day, but teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. The same people who say they want to feed the world are the same folk who are against GM crops, fertilizer, and pesticides. However, without those three technologies, there would be far more famine in the world today than there is right now. And, many of the countries suffering from famine are subsistence based farming, e.g. they grow enough to feed their family / village, but don't attempt to keep stocks, use horticulture practices, or plan for the future. They slash and burn forest, start a crop, use up the fertility of the soil and then move on to a new location the next year because they've ruined the soil and it needs to be reclaimed by the forest again to become fertile again. They're living at a one to one ratio with the environment like the authors of this article would want everyone to ultimately pursue, but they themselves wouldn't want to live in a world where we only just had enough.

  • Andrew Vierling

    Agreed. The math does not add up. That would be like 200-300 calories per person.

  • Not Foryou

    Fishy numbers...
    1.400 calories per day/person in the US - but allegedly 2 billion people could be fed with it...
    only problem: even taking war rations of 800-1000 calories per day that doesn't add up - 700 million at 'best' (not using healthy rations).