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Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling

Food: Material-Specific Data

Food waste generation is estimated from the residential, commercial and institutional sectors, and is measured at the point waste is ready to be managed, which excludes food that is diverted to feed people and animals. Estimates of food waste generated by industrial manufacturing and processing, and wholesale and distribution industries, is not included in this analysis as it is considered outside the scope of municipal solid waste (MSW).

This web page is a brief summary of food material-specific data. For more comprehensive information, see the 2015 Data Tables on the Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report page.

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Overview

EPA measures the generation, recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of food in MSW.

This is a picture of a chart on food waste management, spanning the years 1960 to 2014. This chart is measured in tons, and shows how much waste was recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery, and landfilledResidential food waste generation is estimated by establishing a nationwide per capita estimate that is based on curbside sample studies from across the United States and then applied to the U.S. population. The commercial and institutional food waste generation estimates are based on dozens of industry-specific studies from across the nation for industries that include grocery stores, full and limited-service restaurants, K-12 schools, colleges and universities, prisons, nursing homes, residential hospitals, short-term stay hospitals, and hotels.

The studies provide equations expressing generation rates which, when paired with national, industry-specific business statistics (e.g., U.S. Census-reported store sales, number of employees, number of patients, number of prisoners) result in industry-specific national annual food waste generation rates. An average generation rate is then calculated for each industry, and these values are summed to calculate overall commercial or institutional sector estimates of food waste generated. The national food waste estimate in the Facts and Figures report is derived by adding the figures calculated for the residential, commercial and institutional sectors. EPA estimates that 39.7 million tons of food waste was generated in 2015, or 15.1 percent of total MSW generation.

EPA estimates that 2.10 million tons of food waste was composted in 2015, or 5.3 percent of total food waste. Approximately 7.4 million tons of food waste was combusted with energy recovery, which was 22 percent of all MSW combusted with energy recovery, while 30.3 million tons of food waste went to landfills, representing 22 percent of all MSW landfilled.

Please see the EPA Methodology Document for further information on estimating the generation and management of food waste.

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Summary Table and Graph

The data below are from 1960 to 2015, relating to the total number of tons of food generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled.

1960-2015 Data on Food in MSW by Weight (in thousands of U.S. tons)
Management Pathway 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005 2010 2014 2015
Generation 12,200 12,800 13,000 23,860 30,700 32,930 35,740 38,670 39,730
Recycled - - - - - - - - -
Composted - - - - 680 690 970 1,940 2,100
Combustion with Energy Recovery - 50 260 4,060 5,820 5,870 6,150 7,200 7,380
Landfilled 12,200 12,750 12,740 19,800 24,200 26,370 28,620 29,530 30,250

Sources: EPA estimated food from residential and commercial sources using data from sampling studies in various parts of the country in combination with demographic data on population, grocery store sales, restaurant sales, numbers of employees, and numbers of students, patients and prisoners in institutions. Composting data was from state environmental agency websites.

A dash in the table means that data is not available.

This is a graph on food waste management, spanning the years 1960 to 2015. This graph is measured in tons, and shows how much waste was recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery, and landfilled.

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