While rescuing wasted food gets all the headlines, a new EPA report shows that avoiding it completely offers bigger benefits.

Brewers turn stale bread into beer. Chefs turn surplus restaurant food into meals for hungry families. A company raises $169 million to turn grocery store scraps into chicken feed. Efforts like these—which redirect existing waste from the landfill to other parts of the supply chain—have been the subject of many flashy headlines in recent years. But the U.S. needs to focus on preventing waste before it happens if it wants to significantly reduce its environmental impacts.

That’s the message the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hopes to urgently convey.

According to a report the agency released last month—the federal government’s first attempt to quantify the amount of food wasted in the U.S. as well as the emissions it creates—the problem is enormous. The researchers found that about 35 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted, and before it even gets to a landfill, that waste results in annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of 42 coal-fired power plants.

“That comparison number is really staggering,” said Nina Sevilla, a program advocate who works on food waste at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), especially because it does not include methane emissions that occur when wasted food decomposes in landfills. 01-05-22

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