Wasting food is wreaking havoc on the environment, scientists say. According to new research, food waste is one of the main reasons why the United States is such a big consumer of fossil fuels. Food waste also uses up excess amounts of freshwater and affects climate change with increased methane and carbon emissions from decomposing food, they say.
Researchers from the University of Maryland's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease analyzed average body weight in the United States between 1974 and 2003 to see how much food was being consumed compared to food available. The difference between calories available and calories consumed was food that was wasted, they said. Since 1974, per capita food waste in the US has increased by about 50 percent, totaling 1,400 kilocalories per person per day or a total of 150 trillion kilocalories per year.
"The principle of energy conservation implies that the energy content of food is closely related to the energy requirements for agricultural production as well as the methane and CO2 emissions produced by decomposition of wasted food," the researchers wrote in their report.
Increased food availability, coupled with intensive marketing, is also the culprit behind the country's obesity epidemic. Addressing the oversupply of food could help control the problem as well as reduce food waste, the researchers said.
Food waste accounts for over one quarter of the USA's total freshwater consumption and more than 300 trillion barrels of oil per year, the researchers estimated. Other statistics show that today's average consumer throws out nearly a half a pound of food a day.
Meanwhile to reduce food waste (and help the planet):
Plan meals carefully: make shopping lists and stick to them; buy only what you need and in loose (non-packaged) form when possible; prepare smaller portions.
Use leftovers: safely store food to keep it fresh and safe; freeze leftovers in individual portions for later use; combine them with other items.
Start a compost pile: To keep food from rotting in a landfill, begin a compost pile in your garden, which will also improve the soil.
Organizations like Second Harvest (in the US) or FairShare (in the UK) redistribute food to the needy, hospices and school lunch programs. Zoos and livestock farmers also use leftovers to feed their animals.
The report appeared November 25 in the Journal Public Library of Science ONE.