Cooking with Scraps

Just How Big is the Food Waste Problem?

March 15, 2016

Mom meant well when she told you to clean your plate. But the food waste problem goes way beyond your untouched broccoli—and starts way higher in the supply chain. It’s the 133-billion-pound, $161-billion elephant in the room of the American food system, where an estimated 30 to 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed.

Food waste is also the single largest constituent of municipal landfills and the third largest source of methane in the U.S.

Europe is leading by example. Over the past five years, Denmark has cut food waste by 25% through a grocery chain that sells mislabeled, misshapen, expired, and otherwise unsellable products. Think crushed cereal boxes, or conjoined produce—products that might not look so hot on the shelf but are, for all intents and purposes, fine to eat. And popular U.K. chain Tesco just announced that they will begin donating unsold food at the end of each day instead of tossing it.

While we’ve seen small-scale versions of these programs stateside—a “surplus goods” grocery store in Boston, for example, or Panera’s “Day-End Dough-Nation,” which sends unsold bread and baked goods to local hunger relief organizations—consuming food that’s older or “off" is at odds with the very systemized, mass-produced approach to food in the U.S.

If you're frustrated with amount of food wasted in this country, remember that there are still steps you can take, on the micro-level, in your own kitchen and neighborhood, to cut back on waste:

How do you reduce food waste in your own home and neighborhood? Share tips with us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bascula
  • Vivian | stayaliveandcooking
    Vivian | stayaliveandcooking
  • Rosie Forsyth
    Rosie Forsyth
  • Bevi
Vagabond. Baker. Hot mess maker.


Bascula March 16, 2016
On a smaller scale, I keep a whiteboard on my refrigerator and try to list the odds and ends I might forget about - 2 leeks, more carrots than usual, cream cheese that was opened for one recipe - as a reminder to work them into my meals. This has been a big help during CSA season when there are a lot of anonymous bags of things in the fridge.
Vivian |. March 16, 2016
I am so happy you talk about this issue: it's such an important problem! I first learned about this in my first year of school: the amount of waste in the supply chain is incredible. Even BEFORE it reaches the supermarket!

I myself like to cook a lovely pasta sauce, omelet or casserole with leftover vegetables. Delicious!
Rosie F. March 16, 2016
This is such an important issue and one that could be remedied if people knew about it more! As mentioned in the article: one small way I reduce kitchen waste is to meal plan, this ensures that I only get what I need for the week - and I plan meals that use up all the bits. Also making a bone broth once a week can be a great way to use up scrap vegetables and improve your health!
Bevi March 15, 2016
The Daily Table and Doug Rauch deserve an article so readers can understand the great work he is doing to cut down on food waste and more importantly allow low income families to prepare and eat nutritious meals. Many food companies and organic farms also contribute their surplus to the Daily Table. It would be terrific to see Doug's brainchild expand to all regions of the country.