A new study says that the American food chain is so wasteful that roughly 40 percent of all our food goes uneaten, because we basically just throw it in the garbage. The report, which was issued by the National Resources Defense Council (via Reuters), looks at inefficiencies throughout our entire food production system — from the farm to stores to homes and restaurants — and finds that Americans throw out about $165 billion worth of food every year, or 20 pounds of food per person per month. That doesn't include the water used in the growing and production of wasted food (about one quarter of all our freshwater consumption), the cost to transport it, put it on and remove it from shelves, and the space in takes up in our landfills, where it ends up contributing 25 percent of the methane emissions in the United States.

Where does it all go? Well, some of it lost before it even makes it to consumers: Fruit that's edible, but not quite pretty enough for stores; animals that get sick and can't be slaughtered; fish that aren't frozen properly and rot on a dock. Then there's the "illusion of abundance" created by grocery stores. No store wants its shelves to ever appear to be empty, so they are constantly restocked with fresh alternatives that can never be sold fast enough to match the replacement rate. Unless shoppers storm the store five minutes before closing and buy it all up, most of the fresh produce and vegetables will end up in dumpsters that night. Then there are our refrigerators, which pile up with unused items that get tossed out with every "spring cleaning." Meanwhile, restaurants serve us portions that are too big to finish and entire neighborhoods go without places to buy fresh food.

The NRDC says that if waste was reduced by just 15 percent, we could feed 25 million people for a year. The United Kingdom launched an awareness campaign that helped cut back on waste, but the amount of edible food that simply gets tossed in the garbage is still astounding.

Image by Chris Waits via Flickr