A painless way to achieve huge energy savings: Stop wasting food

October 3, 2010

Scientists have identified a way that the United States could immediately save the energy equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil a year — without spending a penny or putting a ding in the quality of life: Just stop wasting food. Their study, reported in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that it takes the equivalent of about 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, package, prepare, preserve and distribute a year's worth of food in the United States.

Michael Webber and Amanda Cuellar note that food contains and requires energy to produce, process, and transport. Estimates indicate that between 8 and 16 percent of in the went toward food production in 2007. Despite this large energy investment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that people in the U.S. waste about 27 percent of their food. The scientists realized that the waste might represent a largely unrecognized opportunity to conserve energy and help control global warming.

Their analysis of wasted food and the energy needed to ready it for consumption concluded that the U.S. wasted about 2030 trillion BTU of energy in 2007, or the equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil. That represents about 2 percent of annual energy consumption in the U.S. "Consequently, the energy embedded in wasted food represents a substantial target for decreasing energy consumption in the U.S.," the article notes. "The wasted energy calculated here is a conservative estimate both because the food waste data are incomplete and outdated and the energy consumption data for service and sales are incomplete."

Percentage of Various Foods Wasted in the U.S.
Fats and oils 33%
Dairy 32%
Grains 32%
Eggs 31%
Sugar and other caloric sweeteners 31%
Vegetables 25%
Fruit 23%
Meat, poultry, fish 16%
Dry beans, peas, lentils 16%
Tree nuts and peanuts 16%

Explore further: Britain aims to cut household energy use

More information: ACS' Environmental Science and Technology "Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States"

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5 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2010
How do you reduce food wastage? Do you a) reduce spoilage b) create a website to exchange leftovers? . How did they get the estimate for this study?
5 / 5 (5) Oct 03, 2010

"Leftovers" implies you are cooking too much to begin with, which pretty much everyone in America does.

A lot of waste happens right in the super market or in the field. As commercial farmers pretty much discard anything less than a perfect tomatoe, and in the market we have all sorts of waste of produce and breads especially. They throw away bread 2 to 10 days before it even reaches the "Sell by" date.
5 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2010
maybe they can offer free food to the poor and their children who go hungry to bed every night. That would do more than just eliminate waste.
4 / 5 (3) Oct 03, 2010
maybe they can offer free food to the poor and their children who go hungry to bed every night. That would do more than just eliminate waste.

There are already Christian charities who go around collecting whatever can be salvaged from the Winn Dixie's and Wal Marts and other grocery markets to give to low income families. Otherwise there would be even more waste than there already is.
2.8 / 5 (6) Oct 03, 2010
If everyone just turned off their front porch light....if everyone just went the speed limit...if everyone just rode their bicycle to work once a week...if everyone inflated their tires to the proper air pressure...if we all just ate wild berries and nuts then we would all be luddites
not rated yet Oct 03, 2010
In the UK there's a lot of food wasted from the supermarkets that is at its 'sell by date' and despite the fact that it is not even close to its 'use by date' the supermarket chains refuse to give the stuff away because someone might sue them if they get a stomach bug. At least that is the excuse they give. However there is as much Dumpster diving going on in the UK as in the US so all is not lost.
A lot is also wasted because people get sucked into the 'buy one get one free' offers even if they don't use it (which is often the case) and the extra item ends up in the bin.
The global problem of hunger could be sorted out if the food was evenly distributed instead of concentrated in nations where its least needed.
The UK has an increasingly obese population like the US and it is causing major problems with health care. If we (and the US) stopped wasting so much food and cut out junk food the world would be much healthier place to live by virtue of having enough to eat and no obesity.
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 03, 2010

Actually, people who exercise alot, such as sports models, marathon runners, tennis, soccer, and basketball players, etc, probably consume more calories per day than the obese people.

Maybe we should ban exercise so people quit wasting those calories which could have gone to people in Haiti or Africa.
not rated yet Oct 03, 2010
At Hotels/Convention centers food is a waste and the lunches they provide for group meetings. Hotel dinners are marginal and has much waste also.

Airline 'food?' is a waste.

Bingo lounge buffets are a waste of food.

1 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2010
If gamma radiation was used, more food could be preserved.
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 03, 2010
For some people, throwing stuff away is not a "waste", it is a kind of consumption. It is a demonstration that you're so rich you can throw things of value away and get a kick out of it. Power beats even powerful drugs, or so I hear.

See the very under-appreciated economist Thorstein Veblen for a full analysis. "The Theory of the Leisure Class" is still a very funny, relevant and insightful book, despite being written in 1899.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2010

Actually, people who exercise alot, such as sports models, marathon runners, tennis, soccer, and basketball players, etc, probably consume more calories per day than the obese people.

Maybe we should ban exercise so people quit wasting those calories which could have gone to people in Haiti or Africa.
Another blatantly provocative post. Whatsamatter QC, are you bored? Maybe you need to start another business or something.
gamma radiation
Yah I was going to say this. IRRADIATE EVERYTHING. You would extend shelf life, avoid massive recalls from contaminated food, and eliminate the need to refrigerate many foods; all of which would save energy.

But then we would lose an important buffer mechanism; excess food production preserves this capacity in case of unforeseen calamity. Farmland sold for other uses is hard to reclaim, and cheap food exports only encourage overpopulation, which begins to tax production soon enough.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2010
Food is too inexpensive. Of course, if that fact became a call for higher food prices, perhaps a tax on food consumption, there would be a real revolution.
4.5 / 5 (4) Oct 04, 2010
It's interesting to look at the diversity of pathetic excuses people can find when they feel busted.

95% of the time, all I buy are things I know I'm going to consume completely. Periodically I end up with an empty fridge between shopping trips, since I don't keep anything in there that I'm not planning to eat or drink in the short term. Don't remember ever throwing a non-empty container from the fridge directly into the garbage. I buy stuff to use it and I want to benefit directly from everything I pay for.

But then again I'm not in the U.S. or the U.K., so this isn't all that relevant, right? :)
not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
Junk food is a complete waste of resources. Junk food tax for sure!
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2010
I remember restaurant owners gladly giving away food to the hobo's until one of them got it into his head to sue one of the restaurants when he got sick after eating their food.

After he won against the restaurant every one of them sent all left overs straight into the bin. If governments were to be serious about carbon reduction they could either take charity food out of the things one can sue for, limit damages that can be sued for from charity food to medical expenses alone or even have the government foot the bill for any charity food damages.

In other words it needs to become an economically viable option for those who give away their leftover foods for them to be able to take up the practice again which I'm sure many of them would love to do.

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