Food Waste by the Numbers

What is Food Waste?

Food waste is one element of “food loss,” a measurable amount of the post-harvest food supply, which is not consumed for a variety of reasons. Food loss includes figures of loss from cooking, natural shrinkage, mold, pests, and spoilage due to inadequate climate control as well as food waste. The USDA defines food waste as “food discarded by retailers due to undesirable color or blemishes and plate waste discarded by consumers.” As the term waste implies, this food is viable for a variety of uses including human or animal consumption, composting or recycling, but is discarded.

By the Numbers


While accurate figures on food waste are difficult to decipher, a USDA report includes an analysis of food loss in the United States (of which food waste is one component). According to the findings, 133 billion pounds (31 percent) of the 430 billion pounds available food supply went uneaten due to food loss at the retail and consumer levels in 2010. Retail-level losses are estimated at 43 billion pounds, while consumer-level losses are reported at 90 billion pounds.


Of the 250 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the U.S. in 2010, 34 million tons (roughly 14 percent) were comprised of food waste. After recovering some materials for recycling, 21 percent of the remaining MSW to be landfilled was comprised of food waste.


The value of food waste in the U.S. is estimated at a combined $161.6 billion for retailers and consumers using numbers from 2010. Broken down by food group, the three largest categories were meat, poultry and fish; vegetables; and dairy products totaling $105 billion, or 66 percent of calculated food waste in the U.S. Meat, poultry and fish losses totaled $48 billion (30 percent); vegetables totaled $30 billion (19 percent); and dairy products totaled $27 billion (17 percent).


An estimated 141 trillion calories per year (387 billion calories each day) went uneaten in 2010. That total equates to a loss of 1,249 out of an available 3,796 calories per day for the average American. Of this, caloric losses at the retail level are estimated at 460 calories with 789 calories lost at the consumer level.

Based on a recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories, 530,136 people could be fed for an entire year on wasted food in the U.S. That is more than the population of Tucson, Arizona – the nation’s 33rd-largest city.

Quest recycled more than 600,000 tons of food waste in 2015.

Quest recycled more than 600,000 tons of food waste in 2015.

In the developed economy of the United States, approximately 80 percent of food loss takes place at the retail and consumer levels of the supply chain. Immediate relief from the environmental impact and financial losses associated with wasted food in America can be found in food recycling. Quest Resource Management Group — a subsidiary of Quest Resource Holding Corporation (NASDAQ: QRHC) — helps companies reduce food waste by implementing food recycling programs in all retail and grocery outlets across the nation. Quest’s comprehensive food recycling programs arm individual retail outlets and nationwide corporations with the insight and reporting needed to manage and track food waste.

Want to learn even more about food waste? Download our white paper.

Retail Food Waste in the U.S. White Paper

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Feature image credit: Tetiana Shumbasova / Shutterstock


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