By Craig Hanson, Global Director for Food, Forests and Water at WRI
Food loss and waste is one of those challenges that is just as local as it is global. Every corner of the earth wastes food, and every nation feels the effects of a warming planet, in part caused by methane released from the 1.3 billion tons of food that go uneaten every year And yet, the specifics of food loss and waste vary by country—and to be effective, the solutions have to be local.
Recognizing this, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the nation’s first-ever goal to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030. Between 30 and 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is lost or wasted annually, accounting for 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food.
The responsibility of achieving the national goal does not simply fall to the federal government. It’s shared by cities, private companies, farmers, consumers and just about every part of our economy and society. From the home kitchen to the factory floor, there’s an important role for all.
That’s why the newly formed 2030 Champions, a coalition announced this week by USDA and EPA and made up of American business leaders committed to meeting the national food loss and waste reduction target, is so needed. Because of their ability to reduce waste from their vast supply and value chains, major companies are particularly well-placed to create large-scale change.
The inaugural class of the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions includes:Ahold USA, Blue Apron, Bon Appétit Management Company, Campbell Soup Company, Conagra Brands, Delhaize America, General Mills, Kellogg Company, PepsiCo, Sodexo, Unilever, Walmart, Wegman’s Food Markets, Weis Markets and YUM! Brands.
Members will strive to reduce food loss and waste in their operations by 50 percent by 2030 through activities aimed at preventing food from being lost or wasted in the first place; recovering still-good, otherwise wasted food for donation; and ensuring food that’s lost or wasted can be recycled as animal feed or compost or used for energy generation. They are also encouraged to use the FLW Accounting and Reporting Standard to measure food loss and waste.
The initiative is inspired in part by Champions 12.3, a coalition of nearly 40 leaders around the world from government, business and civil society dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action and accelerating progress to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3. This target calls for halving food waste and reducing food loss worldwide by 2030. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy are both members of Champions 12.3, as are leaders of several companies including Campbell Soup Company, Kellogg Company, Sodexo and Unilever, which are part of the new 2030 Champions coalition.
With 14 years left to meet the UN and U.S. targets, it may seem as though we’ve got time. But the truth is, the impacts of food loss and waste take far too big a toll on the economy, food security and the environment to move slowly.
In the United States, food is the single-largest component of waste ending up in landfills, making landfills the third-largest source of methane emissions in the country. Food waste in households and restaurants costs an average of $1,500 per year for a family of four in the United States, money that could instead be put toward child care, covering unexpected healthcare costs, booking a much-needed vacation or any of the countless other needs families have.
But arguably the most urgent reason to address food loss and waste is because 42 million Americans, including 13 million children, don’t always have enough to eat. Imagine if we could ensure every person went to bed nourished, with food in bellies and not in landfills.
Food loss and waste is an issue with dire impacts for people. 2030 Champions will ensure the United States continues to make progress toward reducing food loss and waste. The path forward will be led by the many leaders who champion the global importance of acting locally.