By Jean Balchin 24/04/2018

I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of the United States and food, I imagine a heaped plate of chips, burgers and salad. Perhaps there’s a milkshake beside the plate too. I have a tremendous appetite, but even I know that I can’t eat everything. Huge plates of food leave behind huge piles of waste.

US consumers wasted about one pound (0.45 kilogram) of food per person each day between the years of 2007 and 2014. This food doesn’t just magically appear – it requires a great deal of land, water, fertilizer and the like.

Thus growing this wasted food necessitates 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water, 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, and 780 million pounds of pesticides. These figures originate from a study published April 18, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Zach Conrad from the US Department of Agriculture, and colleagues.

“Globally, enough food is wasted every year to feed nearly 2 billion people a 2,100 kcal/day diet,[14] which amplifies the negative environmental externalities associated with agriculture and increases resource scarcity,” said Conrad.

Improving the quality of diets over the world is a tremendously important issue, yet it is also important that we maintain the environment whilst doing so. Previous research has examined the relationship between diet and environmental sustainability, but food waste has been largely ignored as a factor in this issue.

Thus, to investigate the impact of diet quality on food waste and environmental sustainability, Conrad and colleagues collected data on food intake and diet quality from the Healthy Eating Index-2015 as well as data on food waste. The amount of cropland used to produce this wasted food was estimated via the use of a biophysical simulation model, while data from a number of US government sources enabled the researchers to estimate the amount of agricultural amendments such as irrigation water, pesticides and fertilizers used to produce uneaten food.

It was discovered that US consumers wasted approximately one pound of food per person daily from 2007-2014, with 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this food every year. Notably, higher quality diets with more fruits and vegetables were associated with more food waste, but used less cropland than lower quality diets, while simultaneously wasting more water and pesticide resources.

The authors suggest that educating consumers on how to prepare and store fruits and vegetables is one practical method to help reduce food waste.

Every year Kiwis send 122,547 tonnes of food to landfill. This represents both a waste of money, but also a detrimental impact on the environment. According to Love Food, Hate Waste New Zealand, that quantity of food is equivalent to 213 jumbo jets of food that has to go somewhere to rot, instead of being eaten. All of this food is worth about $872 million each year. That amount of food could feed the population of Dunedin for two years!

The top ten foods wasted in 2015 were:

  1. Bread 10%
  2. Left overs 8%
  3. Potatoes 5%
  4. Apples 3%
  5. Poultry 3%
  6. Bananas 3%
  7. Lettuces 3%
  8. Oranges 2%
  9. Pumpkin 2%
  10. Carrots 2%.

You can read this study here, and also learn more about food wastage in New Zealand here.