Americans waste more energy in the food they throw away, than Switzerland or Sweden consume in a year.
Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin say that points to a painless way to save energy: stop wasting food.
According to a new study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, food waste and the energy required to produce it, represent an unrecognized opportunity to conserve energy and reduce climate changing emissions.
Scientists at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy set out to answer three questions about the relationship between food and energy use: how much energy is in food, how much food is wasted and how much energy is in the wasted food.
Michael Webber, the center's associate director and co-author of the study, says between eight and 16 percent of U.S. energy consumption is tied up in food production, transportation, preservation and disposal. "And then we throw away at least a quarter of that food. Some people say even 50 percent."
What Americans spend on food has declined in relative terms for decades. And, because food is so abundant and cheap, Americans are not as concerned about tossing it out.
So, Webber and his colleagues calculated how much energy was needed to produce the trashed food. "We found that there's at least two percent of the nation's energy consumption is embedded in food we throw away. And that ends up being a pretty big number because of how much energy we consume overall as a nation."
Putting brakes on food waste
Two percent is more energy than Switzerland or Sweden consume in a year and the equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil.
Webber's study suggests that putting the brakes on food waste would be good for the planet and the pocketbook. "It might reduce our emissions. It might reduce our environmental impacts. We just have to find a way to do it so that it is affordable as well. It might be we save money because we are wasting less money on food we don't eat."
Webber says that the study is based on old data badly that needs to be revised. But still he says the numbers are good enough to make a point: food waste is a waste of energy. "I think the next step for us at a research level is to get a better sense of what's going on, get better data, get better scientific analysis. At the same time perhaps we could consider some policy options to reduce the waste."
According to the study, the most wasted foods were fats and oils, dairy products, grains, eggs, fruits and vegetables.