Experts: Up to half of world's food goes to waste

In this Sept. 23, 2011 photo, cashier Joyce Mackie bags groceries as a customer uses a self-serve checkout station at a Big Y supermarket in Manchester, Conn. A growing number of supermarket chains are bagging their self-serve checkout lanes, saying they can offer better customer service when clerks help shoppers directly. Big Y Foods, which has more than 60 southern New England locations, recently became the latest to announce it's phasing them out. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
AP Photo/Jessica Hill
Joyce Mackie bags groceries at a Big Y supermarket in Manchester, Conn on Sept. 23, 2011.
AP Photo
(CBS News) - Experts gathering this week at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago said an estimated 30 to 50 percent of the food produced globally goes to waste.

Reuters reports that on average, Americans throw away about 33 pounds of food each month which adds up to 396 lbs. in lost groceries a year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Food production also hurts the environment by taking the world's water supply, emitting greenhouse gases and consumes a large amount of energy and chemicals.

As the world's population rises so too does demand for food and pressure on farmers. By 2050, experts estimate the population will grow from an estimated 7 to 9 billion people.

A growing population means more demand and high food prices.

NRDC specialist Dana Gunders said that no matter how sustainable farming is, "If the food's not getting eaten ... it's not a good use of our resources."

Depending where you live, waste comes in different forms. For developing nations, food spoils more readily if it is not properly refrigerated. In wealthier Western countries, people often throw away good food.

In 2010 alone, 33 million tons of food ended up in landfills and incinerators across the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA have suggested some possible solutions including recycling unused food to shelters and soup kitchens, while clarifying the difference between "sell by" and "use by" dates. That could help some people from throwing away their produce too soon.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of wasted food per year. The correct estimate is 396 lbs. per year.