According to the EPA, in 2010 food accounted for 14 percent of the municipal waste stream — 34 million tons. That's more than plastics, or paper or yard waste — we throw away more food than leaves. And according to a more recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the food produced worldwide never reaches a mouth. It's thrown out.
A lot of this is owed to factors beyond the control of the common person. Humanitarian aid to hungry people is held up and rots. A rash of poor weather kills crops on the vine. Contamination in a factory means tons of food must be tossed.
But on the other hand, that same report figures the average American throws out 33 pounds of food every month. Considering that in the poorer parts of the world people are accustomed to eating apple cores, boiling every gram of nutrition out of animal bones and stewing up what we consider to be garbage, it's truly astounding how much perfectly good food we throw out simply because we never got around to eating it.
So what can you do to help your local food pantry? Donating, first and foremost. But for those of us who are unable or unwilling to do so, you can help your neighbors and yourself by being smarter at the grocery store and using what you buy. More money will be left in your wallet, and the food you leave on the shelf will make its way to a pantry.