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Ad Council - Food Waste

The next time you go grocery shopping, throw about 40% of your food in the trash on your way out.

If that sounds a little ridiculous, you're right — it is. But it also puts the issue of food waste into perspective. In the U.S., that's how much of our food goes uneaten and most of it is sent straight to the landfill.

When you're tossing those wilted veggies into the trash at the end of the week, you may as well be throwing dollar bills in there as well. And that's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce (sorry, I had to). Not only does food waste affect your bottom line — it has an enormous environmental impact, too.


And now that summer is here, it’s easy to see where waste can happen. The warmer months are filled with plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables — watermelon, arugula, peaches, zucchini — and there's no shortage of potlucks or lazy evenings on the patio to enjoy your spoils. Though, for many of us, it literally spoils.

[rebelmouse-image 19477514 dam="1" original_size="3705x2492" caption="Photo by Cecilia Par / Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Cecilia Par / Unsplash.

But the good news is that a weekend barbecue is the perfect opportunity to get a little eco-friendlier and start cutting back on all that food waste.

Here are 23 reasons you should get started today.  

1. You're probably wasting a lot more food than you think.

It might not seem like you're wasting all that much, but it adds up. Think about that time you bought too many tomatoes and didn't have time to eat them all before they started to wrinkle. Or that time you stacked your plate up a little too high at the neighborhood get-together then tossed your paper plate of food in the trash when you were full. Or what about that time you didn't like how bruised that apple looked. If you took all that food over the course of a year and threw it on a scale, it'd weigh in at about 300 pounds.

2. Interestingly enough, though, we didn't always waste so much.

Food waste has increased pretty drastically in the last few decades. Since 1974, food waste has increased 50% in the U.S.

Many experts think cheaper food and higher cosmetic standards are the culprits. We're able to get more food, so we buy a lot more than we probably need and value it a little less.  We're also way pickier about what it looks like (#Foodie), and while aesthetics are great for Instagram, be sure you’re using “imperfect” produce, too.

[rebelmouse-image 19477515 dam="1" original_size="4592x3064" caption="Photo by Eaters Collective/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Eaters Collective/Unsplash.

3. With waste on the rise, it's not too surprising that the U.S. actually leads the world in food waste.

A whopping 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted from farm to fork. This is the highest of any country — well — ever.

4. And consumers are actually the largest source of that food waste.

In our homes, we waste more than grocery stores, restaurants, and any other part of the supply chain. In fact, we account for nearly half of all food that ends up wasted. Yikes. Not to mention, if you added up the food we waste at restaurants or ignored at the store because it looked “a little funny,” the amount of waste we’re responsible for only increases from there.

5. Of all the food we throw out, animal products are the main foods we waste.

Around a third of the animal products Americans are buying go straight to the landfill. Broken down, 11.5% of food wasted is meat, poultry, and fish; 19% is dairy products like cheese and milk; and 2% is eggs.

6. All this waste isn't great news for landfills.

In fact, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, food accounts for 21% of what you'll find in a landfill. If you compare that with the other stuff that goes into landfills, food waste is the top contributor.

7. Food waste creates a pollution problem, too.

The amount of climate change pollution that wasted food generates per year is equivalent to 37 million cars. Yes, million. That‘s a hefty price for the planet to pay.

8. Rotting food also accounts for 25% of methane emissions, which is even more harmful than CO2.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it warms the planet 86 times as much as CO2.

9. And when you pitch your food, you're also wasting freshwater.

In fact, 25% of all freshwater use in the U.S. produces food that goes uneaten.

The amount of water wasted can be hard to picture — but it’s staggering. Wasted food uses more fresh water than Texas, California, and Ohio combined.

[rebelmouse-image 19477516 dam="1" original_size="4000x2667" caption="Photo by Dylan de Jonge/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Dylan de Jonge/Unsplash.

10. All that meat we're throwing away is one of the biggest culprits of all that wasted water.

Meat requires the most water usage of any food to produce. For a single pound of beef to make its way to your table, it's the equivalent of running your shower for over six hours (or, put another way, 12,000 gallons of water).

Maybe at that next barbecue, you might consider black bean burgers or grilled veggies instead — both of which require significantly less water to produce — or at least be mindful of how many burgers you throw on the grill.

11. Don't forget the fertilizer that helps your food grow.

18% of fertilizer winds up down the drain when food is wasted, which adds up to be about 3.9 billion pounds of nutrients.

12. Food scraps could be a better fertilizer anyway.

Composting food scraps is a safer alternative that fertilizes our soil while still being safe for human and planetary health, which is a missed opportunity to say the least.

13. There's an economic price to pay for all that food we're not eating as well.

That cost is about $218 billion. Put another way, a four-person family loses something like $1,800 a year on wasted food.

[rebelmouse-image 19477517 dam="1" original_size="2560x1700" caption="Photo by Sven Scheuermeier/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Sven Scheuermeier/Unsplash.

14. In fact, cutting back on food waste could save the average person about $375 a year.

You might actually be able to pay off some of that student loan, make a donation to a cause you care about, or you could just buy yourself something nice.

15. The good news is that public opinions around food waste are shifting.

A 2016 public opinion poll by Ad Council revealed that 74% of respondents felt the issue of food waste was important to them.

[rebelmouse-image 19477518 dam="1" original_size="4240x2832" caption="Photo by Max Delsid/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Max Delsid/Unsplash.

16. It's about time — because the impact of food waste is only increasing.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the global population in 2050 is expected to demand 1.5 to 2 times more food than we needed in 2005. If waste levels remain the same, this will only intensify the environmental impact.

17. But if we could reduce the amount of food we're wasting, that impact won't be so drastic.

To meet the growing demands of our rising population, wasting less food could help reduce the need to grow more. By making better use of what we already have, we can lessen the effects of overpopulation.

18. And as it turns out, reducing waste isn't complicated. In fact, what you're throwing away doesn't even belong in the trash.

If you take a closer look at what you're throwing away, you'll start to notice that much of what constitutes going "bad" is cosmetic or easily fixed. While you might think wilted or softened veggies and bruised fruits aren’t any good, it doesn't actually mean they've gone bad. Learning the difference between “sell by” and “use by” dates can also be helpful in reducing that waste. And when in doubt, composting is always a better option.

[rebelmouse-image 19477519 dam="1" original_size="3000x1987" caption="Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash.

19. It also helps to know how to properly store your food.

Many reasons we throw away food could be eliminated entirely by storing food properly. Avocados and pears, for example, will last a lot longer if you put them in the refrigerator after they're ripe, and — fun fact — carrots keep a lot longer if they're submerged in water (who knew?). And if Alexa is a part of your household, there’s a skill that can answer your food storage questions.

20. A little creativity with cooking goes a long way.

Wilted veggies? Throw them in a stir-fry. Mushy leftover fruit salad? Sounds like an awesome smoothie. If you aren't sure where to start, there are online recipe resources that make this a snap, and apps like Handpick can help you come up with the perfect recipe with whatever ingredients you have laying around.

21. Your freezer is a mighty weapon against food waste, too.

Making smarter use of our freezers can be another way to reduce food waste, yet most people underutilize them. Freezing leftovers in meal-size portions can be the perfect lunch for a rainy day.

[rebelmouse-image 19477520 dam="1" original_size="5760x3840" caption="Photo by Jason Leung/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Jason Leung/Unsplash.

22. When cooking bigger meals, plan ahead and do the math.

If you aren't sure exactly how much food to make, no problem! When throwing that summer potluck or pool party, tools like The Guest-imator can help you calculate exactly how much food to prepare to ensure none of it ends up wasted.

23. And remember, nobody's perfect.

Reducing food waste isn't about absolute perfection. That moldy piece of bread you threw away yesterday doesn't mean you've failed the planet — because, ew, no one should eat that, seriously (though while you’re at it, consider composting it instead!).

Taking it a step at a time is more than enough — because it's those small steps, when we all take them together, that make the greatest difference.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

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James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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