The market also forces growers to cull the crops they do harvest, removing foods (produce in particular) with blemishes or other cosmetic defects. The report cites a farmer who estimates that 75 percent of the cucumbers he culls are edible and a tomato-packing house that says it can fill a dump truck with 22,000 pounds of discarded tomatoes every 40 minutes in mid-season.
Once perishable goods are shipped, they are too often rejected by distributors responsible for getting them to the stores and even by food banks, which sometimes receive more food than they could use at once, the NRDC report said.
But many studies suggest that most of the waste takes place in stores and homes.
The government estimates that supermarkets lose $15 billion each year in unsold fruits and vegetables alone. The NRDC attributes some of these losses to overstocking products to impress customers. In restaurants and other food service outlets, which also suffer steep food waste-related losses, large portion sizes that far exceed the serving sizes recommended by the government play a significant role, the NRDC study said.
Last year, industry groups — including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association — launched an initiative designed to help them donate more food and cut back on the estimated 36 million tons of food sent to landfills every year. The groups aim to assess by year's end how they can best meet those goals.
But Europe has a head start.
The European Parliament has adopted a resolution that would slash food waste in half by 2020, and nearly five dozen leading retailers and brands there have committed to reducing food waste, the NRDC said. In the United Kingdom, which launched a "Love Food Hate Waste" campaign five years ago, some retailers already are using promotions aimed at discouraging consumers from buying more than they need — as in "get half off" instead of the "buy one get one free" tactics often used in this country, the NRDC said.