On average, every person in the U.S. throws away over 1,500 calories worth of food each day, a study has found. According to the authors, the findings suggest the problem of waste could be twice as big as previously thought.
Food waste has a huge impact on the environment. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), around 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year. “Food losses represent a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs,” it said. “Producing food that will not be consumed leads to unnecessary CO2 emissions in addition to loss of economic value of the food produced.”
Estimates suggest consumers in the U.S. wasted 1,572 calories per person per day in 2011, up from 1,482 in 2005 , Monika van den Bos Verma, of the Netherlands’ Wageningen University and Research, and co-author of the paper published in the journal PLOS One, told Newsweek.
And globally, the more affluent a person is, the more likely they are to waste food on average, the study revealed. When average spending hit $6.70 per day, throwing out food is more likely to be a problem, they found.
The team set out to reassess the oft-cited statistic by the FAO that one third of all food available for human consumption is lost or wasted. The authors of the new paper argued the way that figure was calculated was weighted on producers, rather than how consumers behave.
The new findings were based on data from the FOA, as well figures from existing datasets on the energy requirements of different populations, affluence, and annual per capita consumption levels. This enabled the team to work out that the average person needs 2,427 calories per day.
They found the average person wasted about 527 calories per day in 2005, up from the FAO estimate of 214 in that year.
The results “show that the most widely cited global estimate of food waste is underestimated by a factor greater than two,” they wrote.
Van den Bos Verma told New Scientist: “The problem is much worse than we think. We have to wake up. I hope it’s a wake-up call.”
She told Newsweek the team was able to draw from additional data for the U.S. to calculate the amount of food wasted in 2005 and 2011, respectively
Van den Bos Verma added her team was surprised to find some small countries which usually get left out of this debate on account of there size—such as United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Bermuda and Cayman Islands—had waste levels per capita “almost as high” as the U.S., “though total waste would be less on account of smaller population size.”
“Even the lower-middle income countries, once they hit a certain level of affluence, their food waste starts to rise very rapidly. So we need to watch out for this transition and take preventative measures around their transition points,” she said.