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Stopping the Waste: Average Family Tosses 20 Pounds of Food a Month

PHOTO: The average American throws out about 20 pounds of food a month, which ends up costing $300 to $500 a year. Photo credit: John Michaelson
PHOTO: The average American throws out about 20 pounds of food a month, which ends up costing $300 to $500 a year. Photo credit: John Michaelson
February 18, 2013

CHICAGO - With the average family in Illinois and around the nation throwing out 20 pounds of food a month, the Natural Resources Defense Council is trying to teach people about using up leftovers. By stopping the waste, Illinoisans can address the growing global demand for food and slow the rising cost of groceries.

Professor Jon Foley at the Institute on the Environment said huge investments have been made on increasing food production, but not enough is being done to reduce the amount of food that's being tossed out.

"We've spent billions and billions of dollars trying to get crops to grow faster, to improve yields, and globally crop production has only increased about 20 percent in the past 20 years, despite all those efforts," said Foley. "And here's 40 percent of the world's food that is sitting around rotting."

Foley said much of the 40 percent of food waste in the U.S. and other wealthy nations occurs along the supply chain, including edibles being tossed out of home refrigerators, and at places such as restaurants and cafeterias.

"In poor countries, it's also about 30 to 40 percent, but mostly between the farmer and the distributor - that the crop never got to distribution. It rotted in a storage system; it never got to a train or a truck," he said. "So, we have these big food-waste problems everywhere in the world, but it kind of depends on the context of where you are."

There are a number of ways to reduce food waste, keeping it out of landfills and keeping more money in your pocket. They include using up leftovers and learning how to tell when food really goes bad - and it isn't always the "sell-by" or "use-by" date.

Foley said the average American throws away around $500 worth of food each year, with the biggest losses in the meat and seafood categories.

There already are hundreds of millions of hungry people in the world. That number is predicted to grow along with the earth's population, which is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

More food waste information is at bit.ly/uVUJCB and at bit.ly/l70w4R.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL