British consumers throw away $20 billion of food per year, study finds

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A study by Britain's Waste and Resources Action program (WRAP) indicates that more than $20 billion (£12 billion) of food and drink are thrown away in the country every year. According to the November report, British consumers create an estimated 8.3 million tons of food waste per year.

Researchers at WRAP - an organization founded by the British government to investigate packaging and waste - found two-thirds of this 8.3 million tons of waste to be "unavoidable"- meaning that food/drink was not used in time (2.9 tons annually) or that too much was prepared or served (2.2 tons). Remaining waste was defined as either "possible unavoidable," meaning waste such as bread crusts that some people eat and others don't, and 'unavoidable," referring to inedible scraps such as pineapple skins.

According to the study, the total weight of food waste generated per year amounts to 25% of that purchased. For food and drink together, the 8.3 million tons of annual waste represents 22% of purchases. Making up the largest portion of waste by weight are fresh vegetables and salad, coming in at a quarter of all food waste. Nearly 50% of purchases in this category are wasted.

WRAP estimates that just the avoidable portion of this waste costs households £480 ($800) per year. On the environmental side, the study finds that the avoidable waste is equivalent to 20 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or roughly 2.4% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions associated with consumption. Additionally, the majority of the food waste makes its way to landfills, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide.

Recent studies in the United States and Australia have also found large amounts of food being wasted each year. A 2004 University of Arizona study concluded that American households waste 14 percent of their food purchases, costing $590 per family per year; a 2005 study by the Australia Institute found Australians threw out about $240 per person per year in food waste.

On its website lovefoodhatewaste.com, WRAP offers suggestions for reducing food waste, from choosing realistic portion sizes to using effective storage techniques. WRAP said it aims to reduce consumer food waste by 250,000 tons by March 2011, saving 1.1 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Find the full study at the WRAP website.

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