August 6, 2013

Do You Waste 40% of Your Food?

Do you waste 40% of the food you buy?    I sure don't.  I hope you don't either.   Yet theres a report claiming that Americans waste 40% of our food.   The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued the report that New Report: America Trashes Forty Percent of Food Supply
 Wasting food is pretty ... well... wasteful.   Its always bad financial sense to buy stuff then throw it in the trash.    If you're actually wasting 40% of our food then thats a good 40% of our food budget we shouldn't have to spend.

They claim :
"Americans trash 40 percent of our food supply every year, valued at about $165 billion;"
and
"The average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food;"

I'm not sure how they figure the $2,275 per family figure.   Theres about 123 million households in the country so if we waste $165B in food a year thats about $1,341 per household.     If you take the $165B and figure it per capita then 4 people would waste about $2,149 total.  Maybe thats what they're doing?

However looking at their full report on the topic its clear that the 40% of waste is not simply left overs thrown in the trash in American homes.   The 40% waste includes all stages of food production, distribution and consumption. 

In the full report they say :

"American families throw out approximately 25 percent of  the food and beverages they buy.69  The cost estimate for the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually.70"

So first of all its not $2,275 that we waste but instead its $1,365 to $2,275.    I don't know but that seems like an extremely imprecise estimate that makes me doubt how accurate it is.   More so the $2,275 figure is just the high end of their estimate but thats all they say with an "up to" in front of it.

Now note that there are footnote numbers in that quote for footnotes 69 and 70.   Lets read those:

"69 Bloom, American Wasteland, 187. The author reports a 15 percent  loss in homes, with potentially an additional 10 percent loss in liquid products.
70 Bloom, American Wasteland, 187
"

Their source is the book American Wasteland from Jonathan Bloom.  I'm a little puzzled how that footnote translates into 25% waste in homes.    The footnote says 15% loss with potentially 10% more in liquid products.      Well that reads to me as if the waste is 15% in general but up to 25% for liquid products.   That doesn't equate to 25% of waste in total, but instead something between 15% and 25%.

I went looking for more references to get an idea what Bloom's book actually says.   I found an article from Nourishing the Planet that says : "Bloom estimates that as much as 25 percent of all the food Americans bring into their homes goes to waste."    You'll note the "as much as" bit in front of the 25% figure.    So its not 25% its some value under 25%.

Is it 40% or 25% or 15%?   Is it $1,365 or $2,275?

I think it makes more sense that the total food production chain might waste a larger amount of food like 40%.   If you look at each step of the system it seems realistic.  If there is 10% waste at the farm, then 5% waste in transport, then 10% waste at the grocery store and then people waste 15%  then that all adds up to 35% total loss.     But when the article says we waste 40% of our food it sounds like they mean that an American family throws 40% of their groceries in the trash.   

I do agree that we waste too much food and its certainly a problem that we should all work to fix.

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2 comments:

  1. 40% is crazy, but I think you're right. It's the whole supply chain. We eat most of the food we bring home. Some fruits spoil faster in summer and we thew away a few things recently. I still think we ate 95% of what we bring home.

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  2. I'm no expert in this field, but I've read several of these studies because they seem interesting. I think the overall number of 40% for the whole food supply chain is reasonably accurate, as it's based on reported crop yields and total caloric intake of the population. However, I did get the impression that the allocation of the waste to farmer, wholesaler, grocer, consumer, etc, was a lot of guesswork.

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