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 2016 and 2017 Data Tables on the Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report page.
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EPA measures the generation, recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of food in MSW.
Residential 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 40.7 million tons of food waste was generated in 2017, or 15.2 percent of total MSW generation.
EPA estimates that 2.6 million tons of food waste was composted in 2017, or 6.3 percent of total food waste. Approximately 7.5 million tons of food waste was combusted with energy recovery, which was 22 percent of all MSW combusted with energy recovery, while 30.6 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.
The data below are from 1960 to 2017, relating to the total number of tons of food generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled.
|Combustion with Energy Recovery||-||50||260||4,060||5,820||5,870||6,150||7,380||7,480||7,470|
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.