The amount of food wasted in households in the developed world continues to hit astronomical heights. And the driving factors behind the increase illustrate just how elusive a solution is.
In 2015, households in the United Kingdom squandered 7.3 million tons of food. That was up from 7 million tons in 2012, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, or WRAP, a U.K.-based nonprofit that works to foster a more sustainable economy.
According to the report, the increase was due in large part to two factors: declining food costs and a rise in earnings. Essentially, when food prices drop and incomes jump, consumers are more inclined to throw out perfectly edible food.
Such behaviors aren’t isolated to U.K. households and actually reflect global tendencies of well-off people, experts say.
“Simply put, consumers with higher incomes can afford habitual household food waste,” said Nicole Civita, professor and director of the Food Recovery Project with the University of Arkansas School of Law and assistant director of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at Sterling College. “We don’t conserve what we don’t value and we have a harder time valuing that which comes to us easily and on the cheap.”
We don’t conserve what we don’t value and we have a harder time valuing that which comes to us easily and on the cheap.” -- Nicole Civita, professor and director of the Food Recovery Project
Unless there is a greater awareness generated about how detrimental food waste is for the environment, it’s unlikely that consumers will feel “pressured” to avoid wasting food, according to the WRAP report.
The consequences are far-reaching.
When food is left to decompose in landfills, it produces methane ― an extremely potent greenhouse gas. On top of that, all of the resources that go into the wasted food ― including water, energy and fertilizer ― are also needlessly squandered.
In the U.S., where food prices are also on the decline, consumers and retailers are indiscriminately discarding edible food.
Half of all produce grown in the U.S., for example, is thrown out because it’s bruised, misshapen, discolored or has some other non-threatening deformity, a report released last summer by the Guardian concluded.
In the U.S., at least, a majority of consumers feel remorseful about wasting, but not remorseful enough to actually do something about it.
Of 500 Americans surveyed, 77 percent said they feel guilty about wasting food, according to a report published last summer in journal PLOS ONE.
However, nearly half said they don’t have the time to devise new systems to reduce the amount of food they waste.
The authors of the WRAP report expressed the pressing need to better inform consumers. They may be less likely to waste if they were better educated about sound storage practices and the foods and drinks that are most commonly discarded.
According to Civita, the onus is on both retailers and consumers to identify effective ways to scale back on excessive food waste.
“In the U.S., our food supply contains almost twice as many calories per person than that required by an average adult,” Civita told The Huffington Post. “So, it is possible for stores to stock more than they can sell in an attempt to fill the shelves and attract customers with the appearance of unlimited choice. In times of relative economic prosperity, it is all too easy for people to buy more food than they need.”
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