Last week, ReFED released its latest edition of the Food Waste Monitor, which is part of the ReFED Insights Engine, an interactive tool that tracks food waste sources, solutions, capital, and impact.
The organization monitors food waste through the lens of excess food production, which means how much excess food is produced that ultimately doesn’t get consumed. According to ReFED, there were 91 million tons of excess food in the US in 2021 (the latest year for which they have data), of which almost 36%, or 32.7 million pounds, ended up in landfills.
Other destinations for the excess food included sewer (6.91 million tons, 7.6%), composting (16.6 million tons, 18.3%), food that is not harvested at the farm (12.7 million tons, 14%), and animal feed (7.81 million tons, 8.6%) among others.
The Food Waste Monitor also breaks down where in the system food waste is happening. Consumers have long been known as being the biggest culprits when it comes to food waste, and we’ve only gotten worse over the last five years, going from 45.6% (39.6M tons) of excess food in 2016 to 48.4% (44.1M tons), which means the home now accounts for almost half of the total excess food in the US.
In addition to quantifying the total size of excess food in our system and how much is wasted, the ReFED Insights engine also has a solutions database that examines and quantifies the different solutions for reducing food waste. As can be seen in the graphic below, the database breaks solutions down by where they touch the food along the value chain (each category is called an ‘action area’), from harvest to consumer environments and beyond, and quantifies the net collective financial benefit the various solutions targeted at each stop along the way could potentially have.
According to ReFED, reshaping consumer environments has the biggest potential to reduce excess food, with an annual net financial impact of over $30 billion in total food value. Within that category, ReFED estimates that the biggest potential lever for reshaping environments is consumer education campaigns, which would help consumers better understand the problem of food waste and how to address it in their meal planning, how they store their food, etc.
A breakdown of the financial and environmental benefits of consumer education campaigns is below. It breaks down not only the direct dollar impact, but shows the total amount of food diverted (3.22M tons), emissions reduction (18.7M metric tons of CO2e), and water saved (795B gallons).
While the ReFED solutions database touches on ways in which consumers can reduce food by employing technology (smart home or food life extension technology) it doesn’t show the economic impact these types of solutions could have. That’s not really ReFED’s fault, because the reality is there hasn’t been a whole lot of innovation in this space.
One category I didn’t see in the consumer solutions that could be added is consumer food tracking and meal planning apps, which have been active areas in terms of new products and consumer adoption (though it’s unclear how impactful they have been).
There is a lot more data and insights in the ReFED Insights engine, so you should definitely check it out for yourself.