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Finding Ways to Measure the Increasing Food Waste Issue

Research at AAEA Annual Meeting includes diving into dumpsters

The statistics show food waste is a growing problem in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 38 billion tons of food went to waste in 2014.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) puts the amount of food wasted in the U.S. alone between 30 to 40 percent of the country’s food supply.

While the USDA and others are trying to find ways to cut back on food waste, some researchers say an equally important question is how to measure it.

“We don’t know how big of a problem this is,” says Scott Colby of Pennsylvania State University. “We want to find a way to put an accurate number on it.”

Food waste will be the topic of two key sessions at the AAEA 2017 Annual Meeting in Chicago July 30-August 1, 2017. In the session led by Colby, researchers are actively trying to find a way to accurately measure waste – including literally diving into dumpsters.

A session led by Travis Smith of the University of Georgia looks back at the increase of food waste in the last 25 years, and looks forward to how technology may be able to help explain why this has become a problem that has become the sixth-largest cause of greenhouse gases in landfills.

“There is uncertainty when it comes to what drives food waste,” Smith says. “Whether people are stocking up on groceries or if consumers are unclear about what that date on food packaging really means, how you collect data on food waste is crucial.”

For more information on these sessions, or if you are interested in setting up an interview, please contact Jay Saunders in the AAEA Business Office.

ABOUT AAEA: Established in 1910, the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) is the leading professional association for agricultural and applied economists, with 2,500 members in more than 20 countries. Members of the AAEA work in academic or government institutions as well as in industry and not-for-profit organizations, and engage in a variety of research, teaching, and outreach activities in the areas of agriculture, the environment, food, health, and international development. The AAEA publishes two journals, the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy, as well as the online magazine Choices. To learn more, visit

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