If supermarkets focused on just these specific foods, they could go a long ways toward reducing overall food waste.
Enter a grocery store and it's not uncommon to see an employee removing not-so-good produce from the boxes and pyramids of gleaming fruits and vegetables. But have you ever stopped to think about which are the most commonly wasted fruits and veggies? A study from Sweden set out to discover this, as well as measure the climate and financial impact of the waste.
The researchers studied the records of three large supermarkets in Sweden, all belonging to a chain of stores called ICA. Employees typically track all inventory, so keeping these records was something that was already done; the study pulled the data together to gain a comprehensive picture of what's going in the trash.They found that the most commonly wasted fruits and vegetables are bananas, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, sweet peppers, pears, and grapes. These were measured in three categories -- economic loss to the retailer, climate impact, and total volume of waste. Lisa Mattsson, one of the study's researchers, told Science Nordic,
"We used estimates reached by other researchers to calculate the climate impact. We looked at the emissions that can be linked to various fruits all the way from production and to the product in the supermarkets."
Bananas, for example, took the prize for waste in terms of total volume and for climate impact. Being a tropical fruit that's flown to markets all around the world, its carbon footprint is large and turnover is high. People buy a lot of bananas because they're cheap and easy to eat, but they have a short window for optimal ripeness, which leads to shoppers to reject those that are overly brown.
Sweet bell peppers and tomatoes have a large climate impact because of the way they're grown, but came in third and fourth place in terms of economic losses to the retailer. Compared to bananas, Mattsson said "a higher proportion of sweet peppers and pears go to waste compared to their total sales." Lettuce and fresh herbs represented the greatest financial losses to retailers, with lettuce alone comprising 17 percent of the total wasted produce.
The takeaway lesson from this research is that retailers could drastically cut their food waste if they focused just on these seven foods. In a global context, this does not represent a lot, but the researchers think that it could have an important influence.
"An individual retailer produces a large amount of waste at the same physical location and even a minor percentage reduction can give major reductions in terms of lowering the amount of wasted mass and lowering the economic costs. The retail sector is a strong actor in the supply chain and can put pressure on suppliers and influence consumers."
Knowing which foods are most commonly wasted could shape shopping habits, too. Make a point of looking for these foods on clearance racks and buying them. Come up with a list of innovative, delicious ways to use them or preserve them for later consumption.