New EPA report highlights climate impacts of food waste


For the first time in its history, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing a quantitative report highlighting the importance of reducing food waste to fight climate change. This first report, From farm to kitchen: the environmental impacts of food waste, analyzes the environmental impacts of food loss and waste (FLW) throughout the food supply chain – from farm to kitchen. The EPA’s follow-up report, which is expected to be released in early 2022, will focus on the impacts of different end-of-life solutions for food waste, such as composting and anaerobic digestion.

Image of farmland. Photo: Stéphanie Foden for NRDC

We had the opportunity to discuss the report with Shannon Kenny, Senior Advisor on Food Loss and Waste at EPA and co-author of the report, and Claudia Fabiano, of the Sustainable Food Management team at EPA. . Their ideas are shared throughout this blog.

“Food waste is one of the things you can do about every day in relation to climate change. “

The report draws on peer-reviewed academic studies and government publications to produce the most robust estimates for total food loss and waste and their environmental impacts. It also refers to non-government literature (such as NRDC reports) to provide context. The EPA’s findings and conclusions in the report are consistent with what we published in Wasted (2017), while providing 2021 estimates of the origin of food waste and its impacts.

The report has a ton of interesting information and we encourage you to read all the details, but here are some of the main conclusions and takeaways:

  • Every year, kitchen waste in the United States, from farm to kitchen, contains the same GHG emissions as 42 coal-fired power plants. This is a mind-boggling figure, one that has caught hold of Kenny, who is hoping it will spur consumers and lawmakers to act. Kenny says, “Food waste is a big contributor to climate change, but preventing it is a very effective and achievable solution.” Claudia adds, “This is one of the things you can take action on when it comes to climate change every day, whether it’s planning meals, buying your fridge first, or composting whatever. rest “. And the best part about reducing food waste compared to other consumer-focused climate change solutions like installing heat pumps or buying an electric car is, like Kenny says, “We are asking people to save money, not spend money.”

“This report emphasizes the need to prevent food waste. This is where we’re going to get the most bang for our buck from a climate change perspective.”

  • The strategy for reducing food waste with the greatest environmental benefits is not recycling, it is prevention. If we meet our national 2030 target to reduce production waste by 50%, we could reduce the equivalent of the GHG emissions of 23 coal-fired power plants each year. Preventing food waste from happening in the first place is key to achieving this goal. When food is needlessly thrown away, hidden losses include the energy and resources needed to grow, process and transport it. Claudia explains: “This report highlights the need to prevent food waste. This is where we’re going to get the most bang for our buck from a climate change perspective. “
  • The sectors to target for energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions are households and restaurants. The report defines the final stage in the food supply chain as “consumption,” when food is ultimately consumed, such as in restaurants and at home. The consumption stage is responsible for about half of American FLWs. Education is the main way to prevent food waste in these sectors. Shannon adds, “If you want to reduce food waste from the consumer sector, in addition to education, we need to engage upstream stakeholders, food manufacturers and food retailers, to help build a system that allows consumers to waste less. “

“Food insecurity is not due to scarcity, it is a distribution problem.”

  • Even if we were to meet the food needs of the entire food insecure population in the United States, there would still be excess food. The report shows that we have enough food in the United States to feed everyone. Shannon explains, “Food insecurity is not due to scarcity, it is a distribution issue. If we completely fed everyone in the country and there was no food insecurity, we would still have food waste. We need to start looking at a range of solutions – preventative solutions, not just lifesaving solutions. The root causes of people’s lack of resources to purchase food to meet their needs are varied, but this finding further underscores the importance of prevention as well as finding equitable solutions for food security.
  • Globally, the United States is the world’s third largest producer of food waste and the third largest producer of food waste per capita. The report also found that the environmental impacts of food waste in the United States are greater than in other countries for two reasons: first, the United States wastes more animal products, and second, more food waste occurs. at the consumption level – in homes and restaurants – while in other countries most food waste occurs further up the food chain, such as on farms.
  • This series of reports will help set priorities and inform policies to achieve our national 2030 goal of reducing production waste by 50%. The report definitively described the challenges of the food waste issue, providing stakeholders such as state and local governments with invaluable data. It will also support the work of federal agencies to achieve the national goal. Claudia explains that the EPA initially interpreted the 50% reduction target as “a diversion target – halving the amount of food going to landfills and combustion facilities.” But the EPA recently realigned the national target with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to also include the prevention of food waste as part of the 50% reduction. The recently published report reaffirms the EPA’s choice to develop the food recovery hierarchy and focus on prevention.

Image: NRDC, based on the EPA’s food recovery hierarchy

To reach our national goal, we need action at all levels, including households, cities, states and the federal government. This long-awaited report will be of infinite utility in fostering dialogue and creating unified priorities. We look forward to the release of the second report to learn more about the different impacts of end-of-life food waste management and how they compare to farm-to-kitchen impacts.


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