Survey finds U.S. households waste 6.2 cups of food per week

Average U.S. household could save up to $1,500 annually by reducing food waste.

November 16, 2023

4 Min Read
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The MITRE-Gallup State of Food Waste in America survey reveals new data and trends gathered from more than 9,000 households nationally. The 50-state survey of U.S. households includes user-reported data of daily food waste to investigate how much edible food is being tossed out and why. On average, American households are throwing away 6.2 cups of food per week, with leftover waste/spoilage and overreliance on date labels identified as two of the primary contributors to this waste.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 30% to 40% of food in the United States is wasted. ReFED estimates this waste is costing residents $310 billion as otherwise edible food fills up landfills and generates greenhouse gas emissions.

When asked what motivates them to reduce food waste, Americans rank saving money as the top motivating factor. Eighty-two percent report saving money motivates them a fair amount or a great deal. Reducing environmental impacts (40%) ranks lower than the other motivators; however, the MITRE-Gallup survey reveals there is awareness of the environmental implications. Fifty-five percent of consumers believe climate change is a consequence of food waste.

“We knew about half of food waste occurs at home, but we didn’t have a good measure of household food waste,” said Laura Leets, Ph.D., senior principal scientist, MITRE. “MITRE developed a first-of-its-kind app to measure household food waste and launched a national study with Gallup to better understand why and how households waste food, and what would motivate them to prevent waste. Our findings are valuable to organizations creating waste-reduction initiatives as well as consumers who want to save money, maximize available food resources for benefit of disadvantaged communities, and address related environmental consequences.”

By the numbers

  • The average household wastes an average of 6.2 cups of food per week, or 322 cups per year, which is enough to fill 360 medium-sized take-out containers.

  • 87% of households reported wasting edible food the prior week.

  • Despite 81% of households citing price as the top food-related issue, only 33% are aware the average American household could save at least $1,500 per year by eliminating food waste, and almost half (49%) underestimate potential cost savings.

  • 86% of households think Americans should do more to reduce the amount of food we waste.

  • Households that frequently throw away leftovers report throwing out over three times as much food as those who do so less frequently. Respondents who say they often or always dispose of food because the date on the label has passed report throwing away more than twice as much food as those who say they never or rarely throw away food past its date label.

“As the holidays approach, and people are worried about the high cost of meals, it is a good time to consider how we can all save money and reduce food waste at the same time,” said Dr. Jay Schnitzer, chief medical officer and corporate chief engineer, MITRE. “This research is being driven via MITRE’s Independent Research and Development Program, which pursues evidence-based solutions that will work in the real world.”

Four tips to reduce food waste

  • Make best use of leftovers. People who reuse leftovers waste less food. Three out of 10 Americans report frequently using leftovers as ingredients in future meals and five out of 10 report frequently eating leftovers as another meal. People who frequently throw out leftovers because no one wants to eat them (9%) estimate wasting approximately 12 cups of food each week. People who infrequently throw away leftovers because no one wants to eat them (38%) waste only 3.5 cups per week of edible food.

  • Learn label language. Food labels are confusing, and many people don’t realize that food date labels are generally indicators of freshness, not safety. People who frequently throw away food that has passed its date label waste twice as much safe and edible food (8.9 cups per week) as those who never or rarely throw away food that has passed its date label (4 cups per week).

  • Inventory your food before shopping. Before grocery shopping, take an inventory of your food and/or make a shopping list. Think about meal preparation and portion size. After the meal, store and/or freeze leftover food to consume later. Consider composting or locating food waste drop-off stations (e.g., local farmer’s market).

  • Download the MITRE Food Waste Tracker app. The app is free and will help you track your food waste. After one week it will estimate how much money you can save by lowering your amount of food waste. The app is available on the Apple and Google Play app stores.

"Gallup is proud to partner with MITRE to create the largest nationally representative study about food waste in the United States," said Ilana Ron-Levey, managing director, Gallup. "The first step in mitigating the negative financial and environmental impacts is understanding how we all contribute to wasted food and how we can join together to reduce waste."

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