The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defined federal food waste as uneaten food and waste from food preparation by establishments such as grocery stores, restaurants, stalls, canteens and institutional cafeterias. Each state remains free to define food waste differently, but many have chosen not to.
The amount of biowaste (bio-degradable waste) produce in this country each year is enormous. And the figures are not fixed. Estimates of food waste produced in the US range from 35 to 103 million tons.
A study (2011) by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, entitled "Global Food Loss and Waste," distinguishes "food loss" and "food waste" and proposes definitions:
- Food loss measures the decrease in edible biomass (excluding inedible parts and seeds) throughout the portion of the supply chain specifically dedicated to edible food for consumption that is, losses to production, after harvest and processing stages. This definition of loss includes biomass originally intended for human consumption but ultimately used for other purposes, such as fuel or animal feed.
- Food waste is the food loss that takes place during retail and final consumption phases due to the behavior of retailers and consumers – which is to throw away food as waste.
In developing or developed countries where agriculture is developed industrially or commercially, food waste can occur at all stages of the production chain in significant proportions.
The amounts of waste are unknown for food farming, but are probably insignificant in comparison, due to a limited number of steps up to the consumption phase, and because the food is produced for projected needs and not for a global market. However, losses can be large during storage in developing countries, particularly in Africa, although the exact quantities are subject to debate.
Research in the United States has been done extensively at the food industry level, with the most diverse and abundant production of any country in the world, has revealed food losses at the beginning of production. After planting, crops can be lost before harvest due to disease or bad weather. The use of machinery during harvest can increase losses, either because the farmer may not differentiate between mature and immature crops or because he or she would not collect equally throughout the entire field.
Some of the waste at the production level is related to quota overruns (agriculture, fishing) or standards (minimum sizes of fishing products, quality and appearance standards…) or threshold prices below which products are not not marketed. The surplus produced or fished, what does not correspond to the standard is discarded. Industrial processing aims to obtain products that meet certain criteria of hygiene, taste, quality and visual homogeneity. As a result, some of the products are excluded during the process.
In the case of fishing, the survival of the animals is estimated by trawlers to be 30-40% of the total caught and then returned to the sea. Seven million tonnes of fish would be released into the ocean each year, or just under 10% of total catches.
Farmers, on the other hand, often harvest selectively, preferring to leave crops that do not meet the standards in the field (where they can be used as fertilizer or animal feed), as long as the food would be later removed from the total.
Some households throw away unconsumed products before the expiration date because of over purchases (either the refrigerator is too full or they no longer plan to eat the food), or throw them away after the best before date because of a lack of awareness of the difference between the two types of dates. In fact, a product can generally be consumed beyond best used date without risk to human health. Though this varies from food type to food type and it is not in the scope of this article to define those criteria.
Still others throw away leftover meals that can still be eaten, reheated or reused in new preparations.
There are many ways to reduce the amount of waste produced each year and minimize the loss of in the supply chain. Mindful planning needs to be implemented to reduce this waste.