Food Waste - Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to understand the issue and reduce food waste?

Food is too good to waste! Food requires many resources to be grown and produced. Uneaten food not only wastes resources, it also wastes the opportunity to go to someone in need. It's important to recognize how much food is wasted and take steps to reduce such waste. You, too, can contribute to the fight against food waste.

What is food waste?

Wasted food is defined as any food that is grown or produced for human consumption but ultimately is not eaten by humans or animals because it is disposed of or recycled. Such waste can result from food loss during manufacturing/processing operations, restaurants and caterers, retail, institutions, and consumer and residential sources.

How much food is wasted every year?

Based on a national estimate, approximately 40% of all food produced is wasted. This approximation equates to buying five bags of groceries and leaving two behind in the parking lot. New Jersey residents on average throw away about 325 pounds of food per person annually1.

Who wastes food?

Unfortunately, most of us waste food. Food waste is generated throughout the supply chain starting with the initial agricultural production all the way to final consumption. The average person in the United States wastes almost a pound of food per day, every day.

According to a Natural Resources Defense Council study2:

  • Americans throw out more than 400 pounds of food per person annually.
  • Discarded food costs the average family of four 1,800 annually.

Why is food wasted?

Food waste is generated at all points along the supply chain - all the steps and stops, or sectors, it takes to get food from the farm to your plate and so on. For the purposes of DEP's reduction efforts, seven sectors have been identified to help understand where and how food is lost and formulate short-term as well as long-term ways to reduce that loss. Because of the differences of how food is managed in each sector, reasons for wasted food can vary. For example, consumers commonly waste food because of over-purchasing at the supermarket, which leads to food spoilage, while food manufacturers experience food loss in production practices.

How can I reduce the amount of food I waste?

There are many ways to reduce food waste in your home. Consumers, for example can:

  • Shop smarter and more realistically – only buy what you need and will eat.
  • Save and actually eat your leftovers - plan out certain nights to enjoy leftover food from the fridge, this can save time and money!
  • Store food in the right places and in the proper way; freeze surplus food if necessary.
  • Avoid clutter in your fridge, pantry, and freezer to prevent items from getting "lost" and, thus, spoiling.
  • Treat expiration and sell-by dates as quality guidelines, not food safety standards.
  • Donate excess food to local food pantries. You are protected by Good Samaritan laws.3
  • Keep track of what you throw away – it's more than you think!

Is food waste regulated?

Food waste is considered a solid waste in New Jersey and does not require any specific management at the State level. However, P.L. 2017 c. 136 was signed into law in July of 2017 and set a goal to reduce the amount of food waste generated in New Jersey by 50% by 2030. To accomplish this goal, NJDEP developed a draft food waste reduction plan.

What is NJDEP doing to develop the food waste reduction plan required by P.L. 2017 c. 136?

NJDEP is learning about food loss while meeting with a variety of interested parties across all aspects of the food supply chain to develop the required plan. NJDEP developed a draft food waste reduction plan and created this website to provide updates. To provide feedback on the website or food waste reduction efforts in New Jersey, please email:

How does food waste negatively impact the environment?

When food decomposes in the presence of oxygen, decomposers will respire carbon dioxide adding to the CO2 emissions that are already substantially high. In the absence of oxygen, however, methane is produced which is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Much of our food waste ends up in landfills producing methane due to the anaerobic conditions in many landfills. While many landfills have methods to capture methane, much of this gas escapes into the atmosphere where it has the global warming potential of about 30x that of carbon dioxide. According to the World Wildlife Fund, if we can reduce food waste, we can eliminate about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector. Additionally, uneaten food wastes resources used to grow and transport the food, i.e. water, land, fuel.

How is the amount of wasted food measured?

Other than a waste 'audit' or a waste characterization study, we currently do not have a mechanism to determine precisely the amount of wasted food.

When all efforts to reduce food waste have failed, what should I do with my food waste?

After all efforts to reduce food waste have been utilized and waste is still being generated, composting can be applied to deter excess food waste from being disposed of in landfills. Click here to read more about backyard composting.

1 New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Draft Food Waste Reduction Plan
2 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. p. 4
3 The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Law Synopsis