Tackling the Food Waste Epidemic

By: Jessica McKenney

Food waste and hunger are two contradicting, yet prevalent, issues in the world today. According to the United States Environmental Agency (“EPA”), there are “48 million Americans that live in food insecure households”.1 At the same time, the U.S. is sending 218.9 pounds of food per person to the landfills from residences, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, factory lunchrooms, and other commercial, institutional, and industrial sources.2 At the retail and consumer levels, approximately thirty-one percent (133 billion pounds) of food is being thrown away.3  In short, approximately thirty to forty percent of all food supply in the United States becomes food waste.4

In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) and EPA launched the U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal.5 This goal aims to reduce food waste in half by 2030. This is not the first push toward food waste reduction that the United States has seen. In 2013, the USDA and EPA started the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, asking food supply entities to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. By 2014, the initiative already had 4,000 participants.6

The federal government has passed laws to encourage reduction in food waste by incentivizing food donations. The acts protect donors, like grocery stores, from food safety liability (as long as they do not act negligently), and offers tax reductions for donations. Another act even offers “specifi[c] procurement contract language” that encourages federal agencies to donate food.7

Italy recently passed a law that is similar to the U.S. laws in that it offers incentives and protections to companies that donate food. Italy’s goal is to cut its annual waste by about one million tons per year (from the five million tons it is currently estimated to waste annually).8 The law protects donors from receiving sanctions for donating food past the sell-by date, allows farmers to donate produce “without incurring costs”, and gives the Agricultural Ministry one million dollars to research packaging that can “prevent spoilage and extend shelf life”.9

France also passed food waste legislation and became the first country “to ban supermarket waste and compel large retailers to donate unsold food [by sanctioning them with a fine otherwise]”. France estimates that approximately seven million tons of food are thrown away each year. Some French charities welcome the extra food, while others are worried they do not have the capacity to handle and distribute it.10

The answer to this issue may come from a bill that is being proposed in the United States. Chellie Pingree, the congresswoman for the 1st district of Maine11, recently introduced an act that proposes ways food waste can be reduced. One of the actions laid out in the Food Recovery Act of 2015 is “[]nvest[ing] in storage and distribution programs to help food banks maximize their resources”.12 The bill also includes expanding benefits and protections afforded to companies that donate their food, discouraging food waste in schools, creating an Office of Food Recovery, and other food-saving techniques.13 Pingree, along with Senator Richard Blumenthal, also introduced the Food Date Labeling Act. The act requires all food stores to uniformly use “best if used by” labels for food products that may lose quality after a certain time, and “expires on” labels for food products that may become harmful after a certain date. The act also calls for education of these terms to reduce food waste resulting from lack of clarity.14

One way the United States is already ahead of France and Italy in the food waste-reduction arena is with to-go boxes. While to-go boxes have been standard practice in the United States for decades, Italy15 and France16 are just now encouraging its wide-spread use to help lower food waste. Even so, in the United States, millions of pounds of food are being thrown away every year that could be used to feed people struggling with food security.17 The United States needs to work diligently to dramatically reduce food waste while also raising the number of well-fed families. This can be done by collaborating with advocates, such as Pingree; doing case studies on laws that have already been passed, like in Italy and France; giving the recommendations of the USDA, EPA, and other related groups the force of law; and using other ideas that can be forged if due priority is given to this issue.


1EPA, United States 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal, US Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/united-states-2030-food-loss-and-waste-reduction-goal (last visited May 23, 2016).

2Id.

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4USDA, Frequently Asked Questions, United States Department of Agriculture: Office of the Chief Economist, http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm (last visited May 22, 2016).

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7USDA, Recovery/Donations, United States Department of Agriculture: Office of the Chief Economist, http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/resources/donations.htmhtm (last visited May 22, 2016).

8Italy adopts New Law to Slash Food Waste, BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36965671 (last visited May 22, 2016).

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10France Battles Food Waste by Law, BBC News, http://www.dw.com/en/france-battles-food-waste-by-law/a-19148931 (last visited May 22, 2016).

11Congresswoman Chellie Pingree: 1st District of Maine, https://pingree.house.gov/ (last visited May 23, 2016).

12Summary: Food Recovery Act, House.gov, https://pingree.house.gov/foodwaste/billsummary (last visited May 22, 2016).

13Id.

14H.R. 5298, House.gov, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5298/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22pingree%22%5D%7D (last visited May 22, 2016).

15Italy Adopts New Law to Slash Food Waste, Supra note 4.

16France Battles Food Waste by Law, Supra note 5.

17EPA, Supra note 1.