Every time you pass an overflowing garbage can, two things probably cross your mind: “Damn, that’s a lot of food trash,” and “Someone really needs to empty this.” Depending on how your day is going, you might briefly think that it’s a shame how much food we waste, or you might skip that thought altogether and go on stressing about which Instagram filter to apply to your latest avocado toast photo.

Food waste is everywhere in this country/ We all see the problem, and we all think it’s someone else’s. But the sad truth is, it’s not. We’re the problem, but we can also be the solution if we just take a little more care with our food choices.

To that end, Harris Polls conducted a study on behalf of food packaging company Sealed Air. The goal of the 2014 Food Waste Study is simple: get U.S. consumers to think about food waste, then do what we can to reduce it. While Sealed Air may have a vested interest in providing this information, that doesn’t make it any less startling.

Some Shocking Statistics on Food Waste in the U.S.

  • Americans throw away more than 50 million tons of food every year.
  • In throwing out all that food, Americans also waste 25% of fresh water and 300 million barrels of oil used to grow and transport that food.
  • That’s $160 billion dollars of food waste for the entire country per year. Broken down per household, that’s an average of $2,000.
  • In the past 40 years, the amount of food waste in the U.S. per person has doubled.
  • We waste so much food, if we were able to recover just 25% of our wasted food per year, we could provide three meals a day to 43 million people, or provide sufficient calories to lift ten times that many people out of hunger.
  • Meanwhile, 63% of American grocery shoppers are concerned about food waste, but only 34% think their own household is part of the problem. Relatedly, 49% think consumers are a big part of the problem, but only 30% think that their household throws away more food than it should.

Here’s an infographic that displays the full survey results:

food waste

The survey also notes that 63% of grocery shoppers associate food packaging more with food safety than with reduced food waste. Meanwhile, 89% of grocery shoppers think that packaging material is more harmful to the environment than discarded food.

However, the survey does not address the issue of composting, which is becoming more popular (even in urban environments) as the combined locavore/eco-conscious trend continues—and also a practice that the U.S. EPA actively encourages in the fight against food waste. (Photo: Sealed Air)


Additionally, the survey notes that 62% of grocery shoppers do not believe that food packaging is good for the environment, yet 40% also remove original packaging on store-bought foods and repackage them.

If consumers are putting their food in plastic wrap, plastic bags, aluminum foil, and other disposable packaging, that’s obviously an issue. However, this survey doesn’t mention the booming market in food storage containers (Rubbermaid, Lock & Lock, etc.), which manage to help food stay fresh longer and also don’t contribute to the food packaging waste stream on a regular basis. Surely some amount of that 18% of plastics and 15% of paper and paperboard making it into our landfills comes from food packaging. (Photo: EPA)

[via the Daily Meal, Street Insider, Sealed Air]