Food Waste

Food waste is an expensive drain on the economy and extremely harmful to the environment, and it is one of the largest waste-related challenges facing us in the 21st Century. According to CalRecycle statistics, food waste is the single most prevalent item in our landfills, which is especially tragic when combined with the staggering numbers of hungry people in our state.

A 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the United States wastes 40 percent of the food it produces - more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. The study also found that:

  • 80 percent of the freshwater Americans use is for food production
  • 10 percent of energy Americans use is for food production and distribution
  • 15 percent of food wasted in the U.S. could feed 25 million Americans a year
  • 16 percent of U.S. methane emissions is caused by organic matter dumped in landfills

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established a Food Recovery Hierarchy to guide individuals and organizations in reducing food waste. Reducing the amount of surplus food that is generated tops the hierarchy, followed by ensuring that still-edible food goes to feed people. Disposing this valuable material should only be considered as a last resort.

There are several common sense reforms that that need to be implemented to insure that less food waste is generated, that edible food goes to hungry people, and that inedible scraps are returned to the soil. Among these reforms, the state's tax code should create an incentive structure that results in the recovery of more of these material, and out-dated food labels needs to be updated to ensure that consumers have accurate information about how long food is safe to consume.

While edible food should clearly go to feed hungry people, it is also important to insure that inedible or spoiled kitchen scraps be diverted from landfills to composting facilities to return those nutrients to the soil. Among other efforts, Californians Against Waste has successfully sponsored landmark legislation that requires restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses to arrange for composting (or anaerobic digestion) of their food waste. Click here to learn more about composting.

Popular Food Waste Videos

HBO's 'Last Week Tonight' spent an entire episode looking at the issue of food waste, ridiculing it but also focusing on the need for strong legislation that promotes food donation. In it, host John Oliver says that, "At a time when the landscape of California is shriveling up like a pumpkin in front of a house with a lazy dad, it seems especially unwise that farmers are pumping water into food that ends up being used as a garnish for landfills." 

The PBS Newshour recently aired a segment featuring a visit to California's Salinas Valley, where the nation gets much of its produce.  Check out their report, which features California farmers explaining how our nation has come to throw away so much food every year.


The MSNBC documentary 'Just Eat It' follows one couple as they try to reduce food waste in their lives, eating only food that would otherwise be discarded. The documentary features Johnathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, who says "There was a study in New York - they looked at all of the food waste in one county, and the most waste came from households - more than from restaurants, more than from supermarkets, more than from farms."


Check out Californians Against Waste's Pinterest Page for ways you can reduce food waste.