Study quantifies environmental footprint of food waste

Cutting food waste would save huge amounts of water

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Food waste has a huge environmental footprint.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Food waste doesn’t just mean that a few scraps end up being tossed in the garbage bin. There’s a huge environmental footprint, including the waste of water associated with the production of the food.

In the EU, according to a new study, the surface and groundwater footprint from avoidable food waste has reached an average of 27 liters per person, per day, which is slightly higher than the average amount per capita municipal water use. The rainwater footprint is even higher, at 294 litres per capita per day, equivalent to the amount used for crop production in Spain.

And the amount of nitrogen contained in avoidable food waste averaged 0.68 kg per capita per year. The food production nitrogen footprint was 2.74 kg per capita per year, the same amount used in mineral fertilizer in both the UK and Germany put together.

The study took a close look at food waste in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Romania, where consumer patterns are very different due to differing lifestyles and purchasing power.

It found that Europeans waste an average of 123 kg per capita annually, or 16 percen of all food reaching consumers. Almost 80 percent (97 kg) is avoidable, as it is edible food. Averaged for all EU citizens, this translates into 47 million tonnes of avoidable food waste annually.

Consumer food waste consists of food waste at the household level (which is the major part) and food waste in the catering sector (e.g. restaurants, schools). Taking uncertainty into account and providing an estimate of the possible statistics range, the study estimated the amounts of total and avoidable food waste, differentiating between different food product groups.

The study found that vegetables, fruit and cereals are wasted more than other food groups as they tend to have a shorter shelf-life and are often over-purchased because they are generally cheaper than other product groups like meat.

Although the amounts of meat wasted are smaller, meat accounts for the largest avoidable food waste footprint because its production is very resource intensive. In other words, a small reduction in wasted meat equates to a large reduction in wasted water and nitrogen resources.

In a world with limited resources, food security can only be achieved by a more sustainable use of resources, along with adaptations to our consumption behavior, including the reduction or, ideally, the eradication of food waste.

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One thought on “Study quantifies environmental footprint of food waste

  1. At this rate, consumers use more water for food waste than they do on average for fuel, given average annual mileage of 13,476 miles, average fuel economy between 17 and 23 Mpg, and 1-3 liters of water per liter of fuel. USDOT sources for mileage and economy.

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