Survey Finds Excess Food Waste a Costly Problem Both In America & Globally

A July 1, 2015, Baltimore Sun article discussed a recent national survey by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that Americans are underestimating the significant amount of food waste that they generate.  From the article:

In an online questionnaire filled out by 1,010 people, nearly three-quarters said they discarded less food than the average American. More than half said they threw away just 10 percent of the edibles they bought, while 13 percent claimed they didn’t get rid of any food. Only 3 percent of those participating figured they discarded more than average.

“There’s people that may not want to admit that this is going on — or may not want to admit it to the survey,” said Roni Neff, lead author of the paper, published June 10 in the journal PLOS ONE. …

The reality is far different from such rosy self-perceptions, however. Food waste is a worldwide problem, studies have found — more so in industrialized countries and particularly in the United States. About 40 percent of food produced in this country goes uneaten, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s more than 20 pounds of food discarded monthly for every American. Globally, a third of all food produced gets wasted, according to a study done for the United Nations.

The article highlighted the environmental and social costs of food waste, noting that much of the wasted food included highly perishable items like fruits and vegetables.

Such waste has enormous social and environmental implications, as the calories thrown out would help meet the daily needs of those who can’t get or afford enough to eat now. The uneaten food also represents a waste of fresh water — up to a third of what’s used to irrigate crops — as well as land, fertilizer and energy. The discards often wind up in landfills and contribute to air and water pollution.

The article noted that better meal planning, more resealable packaging, and increased product size variety could help reduce food waste.  Both France and the United Kingdom have undertaken direct efforts to reduce their own food waste.

While there hasn’t been a concerted effort in this country to cut down on food waste, Neff said there have been a couple of pushes in Europe. France recently banned its supermarkets from throwing out food, requiring them to donate it. Neff said the policy is too new to know how it will work.

But a broader, multi-pronged campaign in the United Kingdom targeting both consumers and businesses with anti-waste messages and incentives yielded a 21 percent drop over five years in avoidable discards of edibles. Neff called that “almost unheard of.”