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Wasting food is more than a waste of money

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The Obama administration is about to roll out a plan for the U.S. to stop wasting so much of its food. Officials from the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency will announce the nation’s first-ever food waste reduction goals at an event Wednesday in New York.

The Agriculture Department says nearly 90 billion pounds of edible food get tossed each year — which is costly to society on many fronts, including the environment.

Dana Gunders, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says as much as 80 percent of the water we use goes to growing and transporting our grub.

“And if we don’t eat this food, it’s a huge waste of these resources,” she says.

Plus, Gunders says, food that ends up in landfills produces methane, a big contributor to global warming. 

“Methane is a greenhouse gas that is about 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential,” she says. 

(Gunders says when the food you dump goes to a compost pile instead and gets turned and aerated properly, the decomposition process doesn’t create nearly as much methane).

There are also economic costs to wasting food. The average American blows $370 a year this way, according to the USDA.

For retailers, costs can come in the form of landfill fees, according to David Fikes with the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group that represents food retailers. His group sees a business case for getting items to food banks instead of landfills.

“In an industry that operates literally on a 1 to 2 percent average profit margin, any amount that you can trim and save yourself in expense is always appreciated,” he says.

The marketing group has teamed up with food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce food waste, and will help promote the government’s efforts on this front at the event this week.

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