The USDA report cited earlier is also grim on the subject of produce waste, citing 68% in total losses at all levels for fresh oranges, 94% for cantaloupe and a relatively respectable 39% for fresh apples.
What's the solution? Here are some ideas from the report on how cut waste at the farm level:
- A farmer who saw that 70 percent of his carrots were going to waste because of irregular shape or size decided to sell “baby carrots.” After cutting the irregular carrots small, he was able to sell them for $.50 per pound compared with $.17 per pound for regular-sized carrots.
- Farmer’s markets, which have more than doubled in number in the past 10 years, are allowing growers to sell good-quality products that might not meet size, shelf life, or other criteria
imposed by retailers.
- California recently passed a bill allowing growers to receive a tax credit for donations of excess produce to state food banks, joining Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado.
This NRDC report strikes the "we can do better" tone with several suggestions, from the release:
The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study of losses in our food system and set national goals for waste reduction. This may require steps such as clarifying date labels on food, encouraging food recovery, and improving public awareness about ways to waste less. State and local governments can also lead by setting similar targets.
Businesses should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money. The Stop and Shop grocery chain is already doing this successfully, saving an estimated $100 million annually after an analysis of freshness, loss, and customer satisfaction in their perishables department. Others should follow suit.
Consumers can waste less food by shopping wisely, knowing when food goes bad, buying produce that is perfectly edible even if it’s less cosmetically attractive, cooking only the amount of food they need, and eating their leftovers.
Europe is leading the way in reducing food waste. In January 2012, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to reduce food waste 50 percent by 2020, and designated 2014 as the “European year against food waste.” In the U.K., an extensive five-year public awareness campaign called “Love Food Hate Waste” has contributed to an 18 percent reduction in avoidable food waste. And 53 of the leading U.K. food retailers and brands have adopted waste reduction resolutions.
“No matter how sustainably our food is farmed, if it’s not being eaten, it is not a good use of resources,” said Gunders. “Fortunately, there are ways to tackle the food waste problem, and everyone can play a role.”
When all the other solutions are worked out, retailers may want to tone down the "unnecessary abundance" of produce displays as well.
All kidding aside, how can the industry work to reduce waste? Are mandates for waste reduction the solution? What's the "payoff" for relaxing cosmetic standards if consumers shun ugly produce? What are tangible actions that the supply chain can take to reduce fruit and vegetable waste?