Food waste is a monumental problem in the United States. Over the past several years, statistics about the amount of food wasted throughout the entire food chain seem to get higher and higher each time it's calculated. I’ve written quite a bit about curbing food waste in the home, but unless large organizations and businesses join in the efforts to significantly reduce food waste, it will still remain an environmental and social problem.

Yesterday, the USDA and the EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. The challenge invites “producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies” to join in the efforts to reduce the amount of food that is wasted in the country.

What is the goal of the challenge?

  • Reduce food loss and waste
  • Recover wholesome food for human consumption
  • Recycle discards to other uses including animal feed, composting, and energy generation
Private sector organizations that have already joined the challenge include Rio Farms, Unilever, General Mills, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, Feeding America and Rock and Wrap It Up!

“Food waste is the single largest type of waste entering our landfills. Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food. Addressing this issue not only helps with combating hunger and saving money, but also with combating climate change: food in landfills decomposes to create potent greenhouse gases," said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe at the press conference announcing the challenge.

Here are a few of the efforts under way:

  • Activities to reduce waste in the school meals program
  • Educate consumers about food waste and food storage
  • Develop new technologies to reduce food waste
Also, the “USDA will work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.”

The USDA’s FAQ about the challenge says that “everyone who has a stake in the U.S. food chain” is invited to join the challenge, but then goes on to say that individual consumers “though very important to the goal of reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste, will not be included on the U.S. Food Waste Challenge website.”

So while individual consumers may benefit from some of the education that occurs because of the challenge, they can’t sign up on the USDA’s website to officially participate.

That’s okay. If hundreds of businesses, organizations, and government agencies get involved and take the necessary steps, and the goal is to have 400 partner organizations by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020, the amount of food that could be kept from landfill and possibly diverted to the hungry will be significant.

In the meantime, consumers can keep plugging away at their individual efforts to reduce food waste in their homes. If you’d like to learn more about how you can reduce your personal food waste, read the following:

What are your best tips for reducing food waste?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

The USDA issues a food waste challenge
The U.S. Food Waste Challenge goes out to everyone with a stake in the U.S. food chain except individual consumers.