Understanding the Global Problem of Food Waste

This infographic breaks down what we throw away into food groups.

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Despite being repeated so often, the numbers remain striking: American consumers waste 40 percent of the food they purchase. Every year, we collectively toss $161 billion worth of edible goods into landfills, an extraordinary waste of both money and resources.

But what exactly does that proliferation of food waste look like? Are we talking about tens of thousands of expired yogurt containers or hundreds of tons of sad, slightly limp heads of lettuce? Working with global food waste data from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Popular Science has made an infographic that rather beautifully shows where the waste streams across the food and supply chains emanate from. The biggest losers, so to speak, are fruits and vegetables (44 percent lost) and roots and tubers (47 percent lost). Despite all the sour milk we’ve thrown away in our lives, dairy has the lowest amount of loss (16 percent).

As the waste lines frustratingly show, much of the vegetable waste happens on the farm, where harvests can go awry for any number of reasons—including walk-bys, the industry term for a field that’s never picked because the labor costs would be higher than the value of the harvest. But an equally thick line exists at the consumption end of the spectrum, highlighting the need for a change in attitudes at home (and in retail) to help curb what is globally a 1.4 billion ton problem.

UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Food Waste

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