More Food on Our Plate, Less in the Landfill

Plastic Helps Tackle a Big Challenge: Food Waste

What’s the number one material buried in U.S. landfills?

It may surprise you. It used to be paper, but no longer. It’s not yard waste or clothes or used electronics. And no, it’s not plastic.

It’s food. Twenty-four percent of landfill trash.

In 2018, we Americans generated 63 million tons of food waste out of a total 292 million tons of “municipal solid waste,” what the EPA calls consumer trash. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 30-40% of the food we grow goes uneaten every year. Globally, according to the World Food Program USA “nearly one-third of all food produced each year is squandered or spoiled before it can be consumed.”

And with food waste comes an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations estimated that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States.

The challenge is even bigger. EPA notes: “There are many resources needed to grow food, including water, fertilizers, pesticides, and energy. By wasting food, you are also wasting the resources that went into growing it.” Imagine all the time, energy and resources involved in growing, protecting, delivering, preparing and serving our food. Then imagine simply throwing away 30-40% of it. And then think about the accompanying impact on the environment… not to mention the hundreds of millions of people who need the food.

Americans are quite concerned about this problem: A 2015 survey found that 70 % of Americans say they are bothered by the amount of food wasted in the U.S.

Like many other big challenges we face, plastic can play a key role in helping solve this problem. How? Because a little bit of plastic packaging can prevent a whole lot of food waste.

Thin, lightweight plastic packaging helps extend the useful life of our food, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions… and deliver more nutrition to reduce food insecurity. Plastic packaging can provide barriers to oxygen, light, temperatures, moisture, microbes, critters and dirt, which can retard spoilage. One example: research showed that beef wrapped in plastic vacuum packaging with an oxygen barrier film lasted 26 days longer than typical packaging.

And did you know it can take a lot more resources such as materials, energy and water to make and distribute food than to make the packaging that protects it? Example: Research found that only 3% of the energy used to produce a loaf of store-bought bread is needed to make its thin, lightweight plastic bread bag. And a report by Ameripen found that the greenhouse gas emissions from foods such as beef, poultry or cheese were up to 400 times greater than emissions from the plastic packaging that protects them.

In other words, plastic packaging is an investment in protecting our food—and the resources we use to produce it. That’s why plastic packaging is a key part of the solution to food waste.

For more information about how plastic packaging helps reduce our environmental footprint, click here.

Continue to visit America’s Plastic Makers: Making Sustainable ChangeSM to learn more about the steps America’s Plastic Makers® are taking to help end plastic waste, build a circular economy for plastics and create a more sustainable future.