Source: Schanes K, Dobernig K, & Gozet B. 2018 Food waste matters – A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications. Journal of Cleaner Production. 182 978-991 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.030
Source: Cuéllar AD and Webber ME. 2010. Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States. Environmental Science & Technology. 44 (16), 6464-6469 DOI: 10.1021/es100310d https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es100310d
Today, Wednesday April 24, is “Stop Food Waste Day” and the president of the US announced the month of April as “Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month.” Researchers have done many studies to figure out how food waste impacts us and how we can reduce our waste. This is a problem that can be (and has been) investigated from the viewpoint of engineering, economics, psychology, and policy. It’s a great example of how researchers from all fields can work together. This post is based on a review article, which gathers information from lots of researchers in one place to show the current state of knowledge on a topic.
Worldwide, almost a third of the food we produce for people to eat is wasted! There are lots of ways food is wasted, but food waste inside your home is a huge contributor.
Some people don’t think that food waste is important, but even people that want to avoid waste have a hard time. The first step is caring about food waste, and people that care have been shown to throw away less food.
There are several reasons to care about how much food goes uneaten, but money is the biggest motivator. People who are on a tight budget or trying to save are more likely to minimize wasted food. Another reason people are motivated to reduce waste is a concern for the social impacts. There is evidence that people dislike throwing away food when they know others are hungry or realize how much work went into creating the food. When people grow their own food, they are much less likely to throw it away because they know how much effort went into producing it. Wasting food is also bad for the environment.
Wasted food means we need more land for agriculture, which can lead to deforestation. Food production also uses a lot of water. An estimate for the UK found that an amount equal to 243 liters (64 gallons) of water per person per day is wasted producing food that gets thrown out. Many people think food waste isn’t a problem because it biodegrades, but this process releases methane, a very potent greenhouse gas.
Getting food to your table also uses a lot of energy. This means that wasted food is wasting energy and producing emissions. Food wasted in the US represents approximately 2030 trillion BTU (600 billion kilowatt hours) of energy. Meat, poultry, and fish require the most energy to produce. The greatest waste of energy is in dairy and vegetables because so much more of these types of food are wasted. The energy embedded in this food waste is more than the energy that would be saved through many energy-efficiency programs.
Although many people realize that for environmental, financial, or other reasons they should not waste food, there are obstacles. These are some of the reasons food waste is a problem in the first place. Some of the obstacles are personal, such as feeling the need to have lots of healthy food at home for your family. Another obstacle is large packages. Prepackaged food may contain more than single people or small families can eat. Another barrier is food knowledge. Cooking with food that is already on hand can reduce waste, but not everyone knows how to cook all foods or how to combine ingredients in new ways. Confusing labels about expiration are one of the largest obstacles. Many people are conflicted when trying to simultaneously avoid waste and illness.
One way you can reduce your food waste is to plan your grocery trips. This will help prevent buying more than you can eat. Planning meals to use the food and scheduling time to prepare the food can also help. Many people buy fresh produce to eat well, but then find that they do not have time to prepare meals before their perishable food is wasted. Meal prepping may be useful for more than just gym-goers if it helps ensure that you cook everything you buy. Reusing leftovers is a very effective strategy. If you are pressed for time, you can take leftovers to work in your lunch. If you prefer variety, try to recombine previous meals into a new dish. Better food storage can also ensure that your food lasts longer, with more opportunities to eat it. Storing leftovers or uneaten food in the freezer can greatly extend the time you have to eat it. Try taking a class or watching videos online to increase your knowledge of cooking and storing food to reduce waste.
Try to adopt some of these strategies to reduce your food waste. Whether your motivation is based on saving money or the environment, reducing waste will help both. Don’t feel bad if you don’t always get it right, but remember that every piece of food that isn’t wasted is a win.