The Weight of 74 Golden Gate Bridges Wasted in Food. Each Year. In USA Alone.


Not a grocery shop -- inside a supermarket dumpster. Photo: Warren McLaren / inov8

We mentioned the other day that the WorldWatch Institute was putting their wonderful WorldWatch magazine out to pasture. But doesn't mean they won't continue to deliver a searing look at our planet's problems and solutions.

At the start of this year they released their State of the World 2010 book, which was subtitled Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability. It reported that between 1996 and 2006 our consumption of goods and services increased 28%. That the resource extraction to fuel this consumption equated to 112 Empire State Buildings worth of materials. Every day.
Worse yet, up to 10% of food purchases in restaurants are wasted before ever reaching the customer.

And if it wasn't bad enough that food is wasted on one hand, while people starve on the other, that waste has a equally insidious ghost life that continues to haunt.

Food waste helps landfills produce 34% of the methane in the U.S.. You know methane, it's that greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Not that all this food has gone mouldy, or is inedible. Oh no. According to a 2004 study undertaken over ten years by the University of Arizona and reported in Food Production Daily US households waste 14% of their staple food purchases, almost $600 yearly. 15% of which were unopened, even though still within their expiration date. Nationwide this amounts to household food waste equalling $43 billion in lost value.


Photo: via Incredible Icarus

The Scientific American notes that the social and economic cost are but a tip of the iceberg lettuce. They cite a 2009 study suggesting 25% of U.S. water and 4 % of U.S. oil consumption annually "go into producing and distributing food that ultimately ends up in landfills."

All up, figures obtained by the New York Times indicate that 12% of the total US waste stream is food waste.

Not that the US is on its own in generating such waste. The Sydney Morning Herald last year reported the University of Western Sydney's Urban Research Centre's Phillip O'Neill, as saying, ''Sydney is such a rich consumer society that it happily throws away in value [$603 million in fresh food waste] as much as Sydney farmers receive in income [$660 million].''

And we previously wrote about the United Kingdom, where an estimated £6 billion of wasted food is bought but never touched like 13 million unopened tubs of yoghurt.

The USA Today article noted above is not all doom and gloom however. It points to several organisations working to divert some of this waste to folk in need. In particular it references the Society of St. Andrews, who last year distribute some 15.7 million pounds of rescued produce. Or San Francisco's Food Runners, who salvage an estimated 10 tons of food each week from coffee shops, restaurants and supermarkets, diverting it to shelters, soup kitchens, senior centers to feed the hungry.

And, of course, on this pixels we've made mention of the various Second Harvest or Food Bank programs around the world. And paid due respect to the likes of Freegans, Dumpster Diving/ Skip Dipping and Fallen Fruit.

More on Food Waste
Wasted Food: Trashing the Idea of Throwaway Food
The Impact of Food Waste on Climate Change (And Just About Everything Else)
America Wastes 40% of It's Food Supply Every Year

Tags: Agriculture | Australia | Farming | United Kingdom | United States

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