New Data from ReFED Reveals Amount of Food Waste Has Leveled Off After Increasing 11.9% Since 2010

A new online Insights Engine launched today by ReFED – the only national nonprofit focused exclusively on ending food loss and waste across the food system – reveals that the total amount of food waste has leveled off since 2016 after increasing by 11.9% in the earlier part of the decade, and per capita food waste has actually decreased by 2% over the last three years. While this demonstrates that food waste reduction efforts are starting to make an impact, more needs to be done to achieve the United States’ national goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by the year 2030 – especially as the continued changes to the food system from COVID-19 make avoiding food waste even more difficult. Accompanied by ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50%, the Insights Engine is a centralized data and solutions hub with the information and insights needed to take meaningful action to address the problem. 

In 2016, ReFED launched the landmark Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20%, the first-ever national economic study of food waste to engage a multi-stakeholder group to develop a true plan for action. Five years later – and based on an extensive analysis of public and proprietary data from across the entire food system – ReFED’s new Insights Engine offers a trusted, first-of-its-kind online hub for updated data and solutions for businesses, government agencies, funders, nonprofits, and more to reduce food waste.  

According to the Insights Engine, in 2019 35% of food went uneaten or unsold – the equivalent of throwing away $408 billion dollars, or 1.9% of U.S. GDP. This has enormous impacts across climate and natural resources, food insecurity, and the economy. ReFED estimates that an annual investment of $14 billion over the next ten years to implement prevention, rescue, and recycling solutions can reduce food waste by 45 million tons annually. That investment would result in $73 billion in annual net economic benefit for the country, avoid 75 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year (equivalent to 16 million cars), save 4 trillion gallons of water (more than used by the entire state of Colorado), rescue the equivalent of 4 billion meals annually for the 50 million Americans who are food insecure, create 51,000 jobs over ten years – and achieve the 2030 reduction goal. 

Key findings from the Insights Engine also show that more than 50% of waste at the farm level comes from edible food that’s not harvested, 70% of food waste for restaurants and other foodservice businesses comes from customers not finishing the food they’ve been served or taken, and the residential sector is still the largest source of food waste overall and has an even bigger greenhouse gas footprint given the added energy required to get food from farm to home. The Insights Engine provides a comprehensive review of more than 40 food waste solutions to address these issues and more based on their impact potential (net economic benefit, food waste diverted, greenhouse gas emissions reduced, meals recovered, and jobs created). It offers a granular analysis of the causes and impacts of food waste in the United States at a national level and by state and food industry sector, along with the investment required and the potential return on investment for food waste reduction solutions. It also connects users with innovative solution providers ready to collaborate on food waste reduction initiatives.

Complementing the Insights Engine, ReFED released its Roadmap to 2030, a framework to help implement the solutions in the Insights Engine. Roadmap to 2030 evaluates the entire food supply chain and outlines seven key action areas with recommended priorities for each that show where the food system must focus its food waste reduction efforts over the next ten years. Importantly, the Roadmap to 2030 also provides a detailed financial analysis to help direct the public, private, and philanthropic capital investments needed to fund these efforts.

“Food waste is a solvable problem, and we’re excited to say that we’re seeing progress. But we need a massive acceleration in order to achieve meaningful change,” said Dana Gunders, Executive Director, ReFED. “The good news is that a range of impactful solutions already exist, and we’ve analyzed dozens of them – from the simplest to the most complex. With these new tools, we’re taking the movement from a paper road atlas to Google maps, allowing us to see where we are and the next moves to get us to where we want to be.”  

“As philanthropic funders and commercial investors, we have an opportunity to solve food waste. And we have lots of choices. We can do it philanthropically, we can do it commercially, we can do it in our own backyard, or we can do it nationally. The opportunity is ours, and what an exciting time to make it happen,” added Jesse Fink, Trustee, The Fink Family Foundation and ReFED Founder.

The current ReFED Insights Engine tools include:

  • Food Waste Monitor: Shows how much food is being wasted in the U.S., why it’s happening, and where it goes.
  • Solutions Database: Provides a comprehensive analysis of 40+ food waste reduction solutions based on impact goals, along with detailed fact sheets on each.
  • Solution Provider Directory: Presents a vetted list of 700+ nonprofit and for-profit organizations ready to help implement food waste reduction initiatives.
  • Impact Calculator: Quantifies the impact of wasted food on the climate, natural resources, lost meals, and the economy.
  • Food Waste Policy Tracker: Tracks current and upcoming food waste-related policies at the federal and local levels.

“Businesses, foundations, and others can turn to the Insights Engine and Roadmap to 2030 to get the data they need to make the right decisions based on the impacts they seek to influence, said Sunny Reelhorn Parr, Executive Director of The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, which provided anchor funding for the Insights Engine. “These are comprehensive resources that can help businesses get solutions to address food waste challenges, find solution providers to partner with, learn about the impact of their efforts, and more.” 

ReFED’s Insights Engine and Roadmap to 2030’s analysis drew from over 50 data sets and the input of dozens of experts and practitioners from the food industry, professional trades, solution providers, academia, and more. The Insights Engine was made possible by a collaboration of foundations and organizations committed to supporting initiatives related to climate change, sustainable food systems, food access, and natural resources. In addition to The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, funding was provided by Ajana Foundation, Arjay R. & Frances F. Miller Family Foundation, Atticus Trust, Claneil Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, Fink Family Foundation, General Mills Foundation, Harbourton Foundation, Hellman’s, The Hindawi Foundation, Kenneth Goldman Donor Fund, Morton Salt, Peter Welles, Pisces Foundation, Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh, Spring Point Partners, Walmart Foundation, Wiancko Charitable Foundation, and Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. The Insights Engine was modelled with in-kind contributions from Deloitte and NielsenIQ. 

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