Reducing the social and environmental impacts of food waste

Food waste is a problem a growing number of consumers are aware of, but it’s not only about waste at home, but there are also multiple steps in the food chain and waste occurs at every one of them. This piece at Shareable looks at three challenges of the food chain and three apps addressing some aspects of it.

Globally, from farm to landfill about one third of all food, or about 1.3 billion tons, is wasted, and the U.S. wastes up to 40%.

Just like a number of things around the planet, our global food waste crisis is defined by economic inequity. In countries with lower per capita income, most of the waste is at the production level, one might assume this is in part because at every other step food is too precious to waste. In wealthier countries, most waste happens in retail and at home.

In the US, the biggest source of food waste (about 37%) comes from residents throwing away food. Restaurants clock in just behind that amount at 27%. It’s not surprising, then, that Americans and Europeans waste up to about 250 pounds per capita. For comparison, in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, food waste amounts to only about 24 pounds per person annually.

Food waste also plays a major role in climate change. Well, food as a whole plays a huge role, especially through deforestation, wasted water, and the production of meat. Every bit wasted is also an opportunity wasted for the reduction of greenhouse emissions.

This wasted food accounts for up to 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Combined with changes to our diet, reducing food waste could cut as much as 50% of greenhouse gas pollution from the food system.

Related to inequity, food waste’s biggest impact is on communities of colour. The article focuses on the US but a number of countries usually share the same kind of disparities along racial lines.

Black households faced three times the food insecurity rate of white, non-hispanic households and Latino households are also twice as likely to be food insecure as white, non-Hispanic households.


The first app, Food Rescue US, which was founded in 2011, is a nonprofit app “aimed at connecting surplus food from businesses to the right donation agency, using volunteers for pickup and delivery.” Operating in 20 states, so far the group has provided over 83 million meals and saved 106 million pounds of food. In Canada, Montréal-based La Tablée des Chefs has also been operating for years, with a similar and very successful food recovery program.

Copenhagen’s (Denmark) Too Good To Go is a for-profit company, a B Corporation, and focuses on reducing the environmental and social impacts of food waste. Partnering with local restaurants to collect their leftovers at the end of the day (which otherwise often goes to the trash) and sells them for about a third the price in what they call a “surprise bag.”

Finally, Misfits Market concentrates on waste at the farm and distribution level, where a surprising volume of produce is discarded for visual imperfections and excess supply. Working directly with growers, they offer affordable organic produce as well as meats, seafood, and various pantry items in boxes consumers can subscribe to at discounted prices. In Québec, Marché SecondLife also rescues overlooked food to achieve savings for clients and the planet.

As the article reminds us, even with these projects, it’s still early days and the vast, vast majority of waste is ongoing. Hopefully, all of these companies and non-profits not only gain clients but also raise awareness and have an impact beyond their own essential services.