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The shocking waste of 72 million tons of food

A shopping cart filled with heathy food and

A shopping cart filled with heathy food and produce at the Stop & Shop on Shore Road in Port Washington on Oct. 7, 2014. Long Island groceries are meeting the demands of shoppers with more healthy options. Photo Credit: Uli Seit

A third of the food produced in the world is never consumed. It's thrown out even as millions of people go hungry, and the food waste degrades the environment.

Enough is discarded by consumers or wasted in production in developed countries to feed the world's 870 million hungry people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In the United States alone, 72 million tons of vegetables, meats, fruits and the like is discarded each year, according to the Waste and Resources Action Program, a British group called WRAP. Most of that excess couldn't be delivered to people who need it. Nations where most food is discarded are not where most of the world's hungry live. But food waste also poses a problem for the environment. Growing food and raising livestock require massive use of fertilizers, pesticides and water, and transporting products to market consumes fuel that fouls the air. And globally, most food waste is dumped in landfills where it emits methane as it decomposes, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

It's also a waste of money -- an estimated $162 billion a year in the United States and about $400 billion worldwide, according to WRAP. Wasting less could reduce demand and help hold down food prices.

Reducing waste can start small. Don't buy more than you can use before it spoils or cook more than you can eat. And if you have extra, donate it. Island Harvest in Mineola collects food that restaurants, supermarkets and others would discard, and will distribute 9 million pounds this year to a network of 570 food pantries, soup kitchens and nonprofits.

There's no easy way to feed the world's hungry or slow climate change or lower the cost of food. But wasting less can help.