The amount of food wasted in developed countries has always been known to be ridiculous. And it’s not just the food itself which goes to waste. It’s also the resources such as water and labor. It is also estimated that food loss and waste accounts for nearly 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Now a new study by Monika van den Bos Verma and her colleagues from Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands says it could actually be worse than we thought. And apparently the more affluent are to blame.
Previously, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that in 2005, one third of all food available for human consumption was wasted (uneaten). However, the new study says that it could actually be more than double that. Currently, the world produces enough food waste — about 1.4 billion tons — to feed as many as two billion people each year. That’s roughly one-third of the global food supply.
A 2014 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that the U.S. loses or wastes 133 billion pounds of food per year. That’s 31 percent of the country’s annual available food supply — 429 pounds per person, per year. Americans’ food loss was worth about $161.6 billion at retail prices in 2010, the USDA says.
The authors of the new study found that once consumer affluence reaches a spending threshold of around $6.70 per capita per day, their food waste starts to increase rapidly with rising affluence at first, and then at much slower rates at higher levels of affluence. In low-income countries, most food loss happens primarily due to limited harvesting capabilities, poor storage or deficiencies in transportation, processing or infrastructure. In medium and high income areas, the losses are more often attributed to what happens at the consumer’s end — thrown out at the supermarket, restaurant or at home.
The FAO study of the 2005 data has been used as a reference for the extent of global food waste, however, the Wageningen study says that not factor in consumer behavior regarding food waste and considers food supply alone in determining the extent of it. It was originally reported that the average person waists 214 calories per day, however, it is now estimated to be 527 calories per day. That figure is based on data about food production, body weight and affluence from countries representing about 67 percent of the world population as of 2005.
Fruits and vegetables, in addition to root and tube-vegetables, have the highest percentage of waste at 50 percent. Cereals come next at 30 percent losses followed by 35 percent for fish and 20 percent for oil seeds, meat and dairy.
Monika van den Bos Verma told Newsweek that her team was surprised to find some small countries which usually get left out of this conversation on account of their size — such as Hong Kong, Bermuda, United Arab Emirates and Cayman Islands — have waste levels per capita “almost as high” as the United States, “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.