Food waste is a big problem in industrialized countries. The economic impact of food waste in the U.S. is equivalent to $197.7 billion, according to a report by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN). Titled Food Wastes: Causes, Impacts and Proposals, the report estimates that waste during the consumption stage in the U.S. is equivalent to $124.1 billion. The costs on average for a family of four are about $1,600 a year. In the distribution state, food waste equals $64.6 billion.
The BCFN report cites several statistics that show just how big a problem food waste is in industrialized countries. An analysis by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2011, estimated global food waste to be about 1.3 billion tons, which equals about a third of the total food production meant for human consumption. In 2007, the USDA estimated that in the U.S. 30 percent of the food meant for human consumption is wasted every year, mostly in the home and in restaurants/food service establishments.
Causes of food waste
In the distribution stage, food waste is generally caused by “inappropriate ordering and incorrect projections of demand for food products,” according to the report. That results in “enormous quantities of merchandise which are not sold before the expiration date and/or natural deterioration (which is mainly a concern for fruits and vegetables).” Other causes at this stage are:
- Limits of the technology used to conserve products, namely fresh products
- Damage to the product and food packaging during transportation and storage
- Inadequate professional training of sales staff, who don’t always display the food appropriately on the shelves, and don’t perform proper stock rotation procedures
- Recalls of certain products from the market
- Contractual agreements between suppliers and distributors which allow distributors the right to return unsold merchandise that is past its shelf life
- Sales standards that cause aesthetic problems and packaging defects
- Marketing strategies intended to promote the sale of products close to their expiration date and solve overstock problems
Much food waste also occurs in the consumption stage, both in households at in restaurants/food service establishments. Research in the U.K. identified the two main causes of avoidable household waste:
- Too much food is cooked, prepared and served
- Not consuming food in time
In restaurants/food service establishments, one of the main causes of waste are the excessive size of food portions served. The other main causes are the difficulty in planning food purchases, and the lack of acceptance of practices that allow customers to take home the leftovers from their meals.
Recommendations for reducing food waste
The report lists recommendations for reducing food waste, which include creating common definitions and metrics for food losses and food waste. The other recommendations are:
- Understand the causes
- Reduce in order to recover less
- Make it a political priority
- Develop supply chain agreements between farmers, producers and distributors
- Educate consumers about how to purchase, preserve, prepare, and ultimately dispose of food on a more sustainable basis
“Food losses and waste cast a worrisome shadow over the model of growth that has governed the global economy for the past fifty years – a model that is totally unsustainable,” said Guido Barilla, Chairman of the BCFN.
Image credit: Flickr user, Nick Saltmarsh