The Impact of Food Waste in the U.S.

Loren Henry


January 15, 2020

By Loren Henry, Broker
Worldwide Facilities – San Diego, CA

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 28 million tons of food waste is sent to landfills each year. Today, organic waste is the second largest contributor to landfills (second only to paper products) and continues to be a growing problem in the U.S., affecting the environment and the economy.

The Environmental Impact 

Research shows that nearly 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in U.S. households each day. The sheer volume of this discarded waste has a serious environmental impact equivalent to the annual use of 30 million acres of land, 780 million pounds of pesticide and 4.2 million gallons of irrigated water. Moreover, rotting food that goes into a landfill releases the potent greenhouse gas methane, which produces more than 25 times the global warming potential compared with carbon dioxide.

The Economic Impact

According to the New York Times, 60 million metric tons of food is wasted every year in the U.S., with an approximate value of nearly $162 billion. This estimated 32 million metric tons of food waste that ends up in landfills is costing local governments $1.52 billion in costs associated with soil erosion efforts, reforestation solutions, etc. An even bigger issue is all that food waste coming from retailers and consumers could be feeding the hungry people of the world. Unfortunately, by 2030, an estimated total cost of food waste could be as high as $600 billion unless changes are made.

Turning Food Waste into Green Energy

A solution to the food waste problem is looking at ways to turn organic waste into a valuable resource, such as the creation of environmentally friendly biofuel. When food waste is heated under high pressure (a process called hydrothermal liquefaction), it can be refined into fuel. After processing, the watery food waste that remains after liquefaction undergoes anaerobic digestion. In this process, microbes are able to break down the food waste into biogas, which can be converted to generate electricity and heat.

In addition, food waste can be used to create a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a soil amendment. In a recent paper, experts at Cornell researched the very real possibility of a day in the not-too-distant future when all food waste coming from supermarkets, restaurants, homes, etc., will bypass landfills and be routed directly to treatment plants for processing into green energy.

Renewable energy is more than a passing trend, and it is growing faster than expected. Experts predict an estimated 50% expansion in green and other renewable resources by 2024.

Learn how Worldwide Facilities can help you advise your renewable energy clients. Contact Loren Henry at or 619-541-4265.

Additional source used: Waste Wise Products.

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