Challenge

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Responsible Consumption and Production in the U.S.

By 2030, SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production, aims to promote sustainable natural resource use, energy efficiency, responsible waste management, and a better quality of life for all. This includes addressing a wide range of challenges from food waste, trash, and recycling to managing hazardous waste and landfills.
330M
People Impacted
$ 213B
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

Traditional consumption and production patterns are the main driving force of the global economy, and rely on the use of the natural environment and resources in a way that continues to have destructive impacts on the planet (UN).

It's estimated that the global population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. At that point, the equivalent of almost three planets would be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles (UN).

Sustainable Consumption and Production is about doing more and better with less - the use of services and products that meet basic needs and improve quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials, as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations (UN)

In the US:

  • 30-40% of the food supply is wasted every year while tens of millions of people go hungry (RTS)

  • and an average of 4.9 pounds of trash is created per person each day, only 1/3 of which is recycled or composted (EPA).

Symptoms and Causes

Food

In 2019, where 35+ million people faced food insecurity (USDA ERS), an estimated 35% all food in the US was unsold or uneaten (surplus food) - totaling over $400 billion (ReFED). With the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, addressing food waste is even more important as the the number of food insecure people is expected to top 50 million (RTS).

The US has both a production and consumption problem when it comes to food.

  • 16% of food is lost at the farm it was produced at (RTS)

  • A Penn State state revealed that U.S. households waste about 1/3 of the food they purchased every year - and that higher-income households with healthier diets wasted more food than lower-income families (Forbes).

There are many drivers behind the challenge of food waste in the US, that occur at all stages of the supply chain (RTS).

  • At the Farm: the amount of food produced and harvested is heavily impacted by the climate and weather, consumer demand, and market prices.

  • At the Store and at Home: challenges exists with overstocking products compared to demand. Physical standards that exclude 'ugly' or imperfect foods from being displayed at stores, and confusing expiration date labeling increases the amount of edible food that is thrown out - these labels are both non-standardized and relate less to food safety than is commonly assumed (Vox).

Waste Management

According to the latest EPA data available, almost 5 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) - trash - is created by each person in the US every day - total over 290 million tons each year. Of this,

  • almost 1/4 (23%) is paper products

  • 21% is food waste

  • 12% is plastic

  • 12% is yard trimmings

Just 1/4 (23.5%) of waste in the US is recycled and 8.5% is composted. 146 million tons (50%) of waste ends up in our nations landfills. However, this is an improvement considering 94% of waste ended up in landfills in 1960.

Currently, food waste makes up the largest percentage (24%) of waste in landfills, followed by plastic (18%), and paper (12%).

In 2018, the date of the most recent data, the recycling of paper products saved the equivalent of 33 million cars worth of carbon emissions.

One challenge to improving waste management in the US is that we use a single recycling system, which is easily misunderstood and results in non-recyclable materials being placed in recycling bins. When this happens, it is often too costly for items to be sorted at facilities, so the entire batch of materials goes to the landfill (EcoWatch). In fact, it's estimated that less than 10% of plastic thrown in bins in the last 40 years has actually been recycled (EcoWatch).

Additionally, the US sends close to 50% of recyclable materials overseas because we lack the infrastructure to manage it ourselves (Smithsonian).

Private companies now own 50% of US landfills, and the total number of sites has decreased by 74% since the 1970s. Combined with the decrease in countries willing to accept US waste and recycling, issues are arising with where and what to do with all our trash (Bloomberg).

Energy efficiency is also an important area to address to achieve sustainable consumption and production. Learn more about the state of energy in the US

the impact
Negative Effects

Food waste

  • contributes 18% of the methane (a greenhouse gas) emissions from US landfills (EPA).

  • 2.6% of all US greenhouse gas emissions (NRDC)

  • uses 21% of the water for agriculture (NRDC)

  • 18% of farm fertilizer (NRDC)

  • 19% of US cropland (NRDC)

Municipal solid waste (household and consumer trash) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States (EPA).

Generation and management of hazardous wastes in particular can contaminate land, air, and water and negatively affect human health and environmental conditions.

Plastic waste is a particularly problematic for rivers, oceans and other water bodies. Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics (National Geographic). But animals are not the only ones impacted - it's estimated that each person consumes 200mg of plastic — the equivalent of one credit card — each week through their food and water (WWF)

Economic Impact

Garbage now fuels a $67 billion industry across the U.S. (Bloomberg) and communities on the west coast are spending more than $520 million dollars a year to combat litter and prevent trash from becoming marine debris (EPA).

The average US family wastes at least $1,600 on fruits and vegetables that end up being thrown out (RTS), and the latest estimates from ReFED for the total value of food wasted annually in the US is over $400 billion.

Success Metrics

The indicators for success outlined by the U.N. include (SDG Tracker):

  •  Reducing per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 50%

  • Increase the quantity of municipal waste (household trash) that is recycled

  • Decrease the amount of municipal waste (household trash) produced

  • Responsible management of chemicals and other hazardous waste that impacts human and environmental health

who benefits from solving this problem
Stakeholders
  • Agricultural producers and manufacturers

  • Grocery stores, restaurants and other food retailers

  • Food banks and donation programs

  • Environmental organizations

  • Waste management companies

  • Federal, state, and local governments

financial insights
Potential Solution Funding

Based on data from over 600,000 tax returns filed by nonprofits in the US (data via X4Impact), on an average year, over 1,300 nonprofit organizations working on sustainable consumption and production-related issues in the US report $2B in income.

There is also at least $40 million in open grant funding.

ideas
Ideas Description

To address food waste, the US EPA and USDA developed the Food Recovery Hierarchy focusing on 6 key areas that address not only on producing less food, but also addressing the edible food that ends up in landfills, and the millions of people who don't currently have adequate access to food.

Footprint exists to create a healthier planet by focusing on reducing or eliminating plastic use and pollution through the development and manufacturing of revolutionary technologies. Footprint has the widest range of product offerings to eliminate single-use plastics. They offer compostable food packaging for frozen food, quick service, and more. Footprint can develop the solution you need!

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