Photo via sporkist via Flickr CC
We know Americans are guilty of wasting an inexcusable amount of food every year. In fact, estimates say we waste as much as 40% of our food supply; New York City residents alone waste 270,000 pounds of food every single day. But how much energy is wasted along with that food? In a new study, researchers took a closer look and estimate that with the energy that goes into the agricultural production, transportation, processing, food sales, storage and preparation for the food we waste equates to about 2% of annual energy consumption in the US. While 2% might not seem like much, it is substantial when compared to the small amounts of improvements other energy efficiency and conservation measures that get loads of press (like turning off a light bulb here and there) provide us. With staple food prices to rise over 45% over the next decade and major oil disasters bringing national focus to our over-dependence on fossil fuels, 2% is no chump change. The study, entitiled Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States, hopes to help us better understand the connection between food an energy in the US, and how wasting food also means wasting fossil fuels. It attempts to quantify the energy required to produce food in the U.S. in 2007, as well as the energy embedded in wasted food.
The researchers conclude: "The energy discarded in wasted food is more than the energy available from many popular efficiency and energy procurement strategies, such as the annual production of ethanol from grains and annual petroleum available from drilling in the outer continental shelf," and so minimizing wasted food means minimizing overall energy consumption. However, they also note the major challenges to shrinking our food waste -- our food supply chain needs an overhaul.
Strategies slowly being adopted that are a big part of trimming both the waste and the embodied energy within food include:
- eating locally (thus reducing embodied energy in transportation)
- eating vegetarian (thus reducing both water and energy footprints of daily meals)
- eating organic foods (reducing the amount of fossil fuels used in fertilizer and industrial agriculture)
- getting away from fast food and processed foods in the grocery stores (thus reducing how much energy goes into manufacturing food as well as packaging)
As far as food that can't help but be wasted, well, there are even strategies that can combat that, from composting to turning it into energy through food waste-to-biogas.
Again, 2% of total energy consumption doesn't sound like much, but consider this: the amount oil spilled in the Gulf Oil Disaster equated to only about 6 hours of our total oil use. Only 6 hours, and yet ecosystems are now mutilated for generations and endangered species like sea turtles risk complete extinction. Using IEA figures on energy consumption in the US for 2009, the 2% of energy wasted in tossed food equates to about two big coal or nuclear power plants -- so cutting waste equals eliminating the need for two power plants. Little numbers have big impacts when we're talking about a nation the size of the US.
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More on Food Waste
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UK Grocery Chain Sainsbury's to Start Turning Wasted Food Into Electricity