Americans waste almost a half kilogram of food per person every day, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of Vermont found that between 2007 and 2014, Americans wasted over 136,000 metric tons of food every day. To put that amount into perspective, researchers said it equates to food grown on just over 12 million hectares, or 7 percent of all American cropland.
Another finding of the study was that people who eat a healthier diet — lots of fruits and vegetables — waste the most food. The study found that vegetable and fruit dishes accounted for 39 percent of the food waste. Dairy made up 17 percent, while meat was 14 percent of the waste.
“Higher quality diets have greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, which are being wasted in greater quantities than other food,” said co-author Meredith Niles, a University of Vermont assistant professor. “Eating healthy is important and brings many benefits. But as we pursue these diets, we must think much more consciously about food waste.”
Food waste is not a uniquely American problem. According to a 2015 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one third of all food produced for human consumption is “lost or wasted.” Fruits and vegetables make up 45 percent of that, fish and seafood account for 35 percent, cereals 30 percent, dairy 20 percent and meat 20 percent.
Most of the waste happens in the developed world, notably North America and Europe, the U.N. said, adding that in North America and Europe, people waste 95 to 115 kilograms of food per year, compared to 6 to 11 kilograms in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia.
The U.N. said the key to feeding a global population is “not to produce more food, but to stop wasting so much of what we already have.”
The University of Vermont researchers said education and learning to accept “imperfect” food is critical to solving the problem of wasted food, both so that people can understand how to store and prepare fruits and vegetables, as well as knowing the difference “between abrasion and spoilage.”
They cite French grocer Intermarché’s efforts to promote the use of “ugly,” but only superficially damaged food, as one way to reduce waste.
In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an effort to cut food waste in half by 2030.