Special Report

These States Waste the Most Food

Americans love to eat. Unfortunately, we not only eat a lot of food — we also waste a lot. The Natural Resource Defence Council reported a few years ago that the U.S. tosses away an estimated 40% of its food, or about 400 pounds per person each year. (How does the U.S. compare to other nations? See the size of household waste in 50 countries around the world.)

One reason for so much waste is that we don’t shop carefully enough, buying more than we can use in a timely manner, so perishable items dry out or become moldy and thus inedible. (Buying frozen foods can help prevent this problem. These are 18 foods that should always be purchased frozen.) 

Food we don’t consume doesn’t have to be wasted, however. Individuals as well as markets, restaurants, and various companies can donate surplus food to food banks. The Department of Agriculture estimates that 38 million Americans, including 12 million children, are food insecure, meaning they don’t have regular access to a supply of food for everyone in their household. Excess food can also be composted, providing nourishment for the growing of other food.

To determine which states waste the most (and least) surplus food, according to the most recent data available, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a ranking computed by LawnStarter, a lawn care startup that frequently covers quality of life issues around the country. The ranking is based not on the amount of food that remains unconsumed but on what is done with that surplus — i.e., how much of it is donated to food banks or otherwise repurposed. 

Click here to see the states that waste the most food

The site assigns scores to states based on 14 metrics under three main categories: food wasted, repurposed food waste, and food waste mitigation efforts. The sub-categories weighted most heavily are share of wasted food (out of total food surplus) and share of donated food. 

The least wasteful state on the list is Massachusetts, which wastes (doesn’t repurpose) a comparatively modest 47.39% of its surplus food, for an overall score of 33. Arizona is the most wasteful state. There, about 79% of surplus food goes to waste for a high score of 82.91%.