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Paper: food losses and waste in the US

This paper starts with a summary of why food waste is an issue, from an environmental and economic perspective, reviews other developed country estimates of food waste losses, and then calculates the volume and economic value of retail and consumer stage food losses in the US, looking at this at an aggregate and individual consumer level (it doesn’t quantify environmental impacts). 

It then discusses some potential policy approaches to addressing food waste and warns that food waste may grow in emerging economies because of growing incomes and changing diets and lifestyles.


There are few peer-reviewed or major published studies that estimate the total amount of food loss in developed countries and even fewer attempt to estimate the monetary value. We compiled estimates of the amount and value of food loss for more than 200 individual foods in the United States using the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data and then aggregated these values to estimate the total value of food loss and the value by food group. The results indicate that in 2008, the estimated total value of food loss at the retail and consumer levels in the United States as purchased at retail prices was $165.6 billion. The top three food groups in terms of the value of food loss at these levels are: meat, poultry, and fish (41%); vegetables (17%); and dairy products (14%). Looking more closely at the estimates for the consumer level, this level of loss translates into almost 124 kg (273 lb) of food lost from human consumption, per capita, in 2008 at an estimated retail price of $390/capita/year. Food loss represents a significant share of household food expenditures: our estimates suggest that the annual value of food loss is almost 10% of the average amount spent on food per consumer in 2008 and over 1% of the average disposable income. This consumer level loss translates into over .3 kg (0.7 lb) of food per capita per day valued at $1.07/day. Our estimates of the total value of food loss in the United States and loss estimates by food group are useful in that they can generate awareness of the issue among the food industry members, governments, and consumers. Potential large-scale approaches and economic incentives to mitigate food loss in developed countries are also discussed.


Buzby J C and Hyman J (2012). Total and per capita value of food loss in the United States , Food Policy, 37, 5,  561–570

You can read the paper here (journal subscription needed). For more on food waste, including the environmental implications thereof, see the subsection of the FCRN research library here.

There is a real scarcity of food waste related research focusing on developing or transition economies – if anyone knows of anything please do send it through to me here and I will circulate.

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24 Sep 2012