U.S. households waste nearly a third of food they purchase

American households waste almost a third of the food acquire, according to a new study from Pennsylva State University. This could be costing the average household around $1,866 per year.

Around 30% to 40% of the total food supply in the United States goes uneaten. According to Penn State economists, this wasted food has an estimated aggregate value of $240 per year, or some $1866 per household.

But this inefficiency in the food economy has implications well beyond a household’s budget. The “resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water and labor, are wasted as well,” says Edward Jaenicke, professor of agricultural economics.

The researchers made some interesting discoveries by combing methodology from the fields of production economics and nutritional science. For example, they found that households with higher income generate more waste, and those with healthier diets that include more perishable fruits and vegetables also waste more food.

“It’s possible that programs encouraging healthy diets may unintentionally lead to more waste,” Jaenicke adds. “That may be something to think about from a policy perspective — how can we fine-tune these programs to reduce potential waste.”

In contrast, households with greater food insecurity as well as those households with a larger number of members tended to waste less food.

“People in larger households have more meal-management options,” explains Jaenicke. “More people means leftover food is more likely to be eaten.”

In addition, some grocery items are sold in sizes that may influence waste, he said.

“A household of two may not eat an entire head of cauliflower, so some could be wasted, whereas a larger household is more likely to eat all of it, perhaps at a single meal.”

Among other households with lower levels of waste are those who use a shopping list when visiting the supermarket and those who must travel farther to reach their primary grocery store.

“This suggests that planning and food management are factors that influence the amount of wasted food,” Jaenicke says.

Reducing food waste could play an important role in minimizing the effects of climate change. Food waste is responsible for around 3.3 gigatons of greenhouse gas annually. If it were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon after the U.S. and China, says Jaenicke.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr

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