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Consumers May Be Wasting Twice as Much Food as Previously Thought

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Large pile of discarded fruit and vegetables, some floating in water. James Arnold / Moment / Getty Images

Consumers may waste more than twice as much food as previously thought, a new study has found.


The study, published in PLOS ONE Wednesday, estimated that consumers wasted 527 calories per day per person, BBC News reported. That's more than double the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate of 214 calories per day per person.

"The problem is much worse than we think. We have to wake up. I hope it's a wake-up call," lead study author Monika van den Bos Verma of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands told New Scientist.

In 2005, the FAO estimated that about a third of food was wasted, a Public Library of Science press release published by Phys.org explained. But the FAO only based its data on food supply. The new study is different in that it takes the affluence of consumers into consideration. The researchers comprised a data set using information on human metabolism as well as data from the FAO, the World Bank and the World Health Organization and then used it to estimate food waste globally as well as on a country by country basis. They found that once consumers enjoyed spending power of $6.70 per person per day, the amount of food they wasted began to increase.

"Food waste is a luxury when you're poor, it's not when you're richer. The value of food, it goes down [as you get richer]. It's also availability: the more you have, the more you're likely to waste," Van den Bos Verma told New Scientist.

The increased estimate of 527 calories wasted comes from 2005 data, so that it could be readily compared to FAO data from the same year. However, New Scientist pointed out that there were some weaknesses in the new study. It only covers 67 percent of the world's population and did not include any data from the U.S. and some other highly wasteful countries. The UK food waste group WRAP also said it had used a similar approach to calculate waste and found that it tended to overestimate the amount of food wasted. It said such models should be supplemented with data coming directly from consumers' kitchens.

However, food waste remains a serious issue, and the researchers warned it could become more of one as less affluent countries grow wealthier and develop more wasteful habits.

The researchers recommended both reducing waste in high-income countries and making sure waste does not increase in developing ones, according to the Public Library of Science release.

Some tips for reducing waste include reducing portion sizes, only buying exactly what you need and increasing the cultural value of food, BBC News reported.

"From what we currently have in our kitchens we could feed five persons instead of four if we don't waste," study coauthor Dr. Thom Achterbosch, also of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, told BBC News.

In addition to exacerbating world hunger, food waste is also a climate issue. The UN estimates that lost or wasted food accounts for nearly 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to BBC News.

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