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So Are We Wasting 40% of Our Food or Not? Study Says We Don’t Really Know

Potentially overstated measures on the amount of food that is wasted each year could have profound consequences when it comes to public policy, according to a new study published on behalf of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. The study indicates that food waste is being overestimated, in part because “measurements value food waste at retail price, rather than upstream prices,” according to Waste Dive.

The authors of the study, researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Applied Economics, say that food waste estimates from the most commonly cited studies are contradictory at best and incomplete and inaccurate at worst. Part of the problem, according to the study, is that definitions of food waste differ greatly from study to study.

One commonly cited measurement used when food waste is being reported (including by this publication) is that up to 40% of food produced around the world goes to waste because it is spoiled or tossed. This statistic appears to stem from a 2012 NRDC report called Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill (via New Food Economy).

The ways in which the financial cost of food waste is calculated varies greatly, as well. Without a clear understanding of how much food is actually “wasted” (is it wasted if it gets composted? If it is used to feed livestock?) and how much that costs the economy, it is difficult to begin solving the problem, the authors argue. With that in mind, the study puts forth its own definitions in the hopes they will be used to form a new set of standards on which to base the food-waste conversation.

Whether common estimates are accurate or not, it is clear that reports of food waste have spurred business to action when it comes to making (or at least reporting) changes. IKEA, for example, announced just this week that it is significantly reducing food waste with a “smart scale solution” at its restaurants and food markets, while in April, Kroger launched a campaign geared toward consumers to offer “green inspiration” on how to throw away less while eating well and saving money.

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