By Chris Adams

Up to 40% of all food is wasted – and that means the environment is being degraded along with the food being tossed.

It means that up to 21% of agricultural water is wasted, as is 19% of cropland and 18% of fertilizer. It also means that 22% of landfill space is taken up by wasted food.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Andrea Collins of the Natural Resources Defense Council documented how food comes to be wasted – and how it might be prevented.

Collins detailed the connection between food waste and climate change. With so many inputs going to waste, eliminating those would help substantially reduce greenhouse gases. Looked at another way, she said: If “global food waste” were considered its own country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, after only China and the United States.

She detailed the causes of food waste, and how they differ between developed and developing countries. In developing countries, food waste is generally a matter of loss – food that goes bad because of poor storage or transportation options. In the U.S., food waste starts in the home: 43% of it is at the household level, compared with 18% at restaurants, 16% at farms, 13% at retail operations, and the balance at food service and manufacturing operations.

She also detailed which foods get wasted – and how extensive some of that loss is.

“We waste more fruits and vegetables than we eat,” she said.

Indeed, 52% of produce gets tossed, as well as 50% of seafood, 38% of grains, 22% of meat and 20% of dairy products.