Americans looking to save money should start by looking in their fridge. That’s because a new study in the Nutritional Journal sheds light on shocking levels of food waste in the US. The average American only consumes 59 percent of the food they buy. Such excessive waste not only places a strain on the environment, but also burns a major hole in the average person’s pocket, with more money being spent on uneaten food than on gasoline or clothing each year.
Analyzing data recorded as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2001 and 2016, the study’s authors were able to compile a collection of food consumption patterns of nearly 40,000 American adults. Their results indicated that 27 percent of food is simply wasted despite being in perfectly good condition, while some 14 percent of all food purchased ends up being thrown away because it has become inedible,
Given the amount of pesticides and fertilizers that are used in agricultural processes, not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from food production, this level of waste is associated with a massive amount of unnecessary pollution. Furthermore, since most people don’t compost their garbage, the vast majority of this uneaten food gets sent to landfill sites, creating yet more environmental issues.
Yet the study authors believe that the financial implications of wasting groceries are most likely to motivate people to change their behaviors, which is why they highlighted the monetary value of all this waste. According to the study, the average American spends $13.27 each day on food, $3.62 of which is thrown into the trash. This adds up to $1,300 a year, which is at par with or more than people spend on other essentials,
To put that number into context, the study found that on average, Americans spent more annually on wasted food than they did on vehicle gasoline ($1,250); apparel ($1,207); household heating and electricity ($1,149); property taxes ($1,046); and household maintenance, repairs and insurance ($936) for the average single-person household in 2017.
Changing habits saves more than just money, but it could also save lives. The study authors note that the leading risk factor for morbidity and mortality in the US is poor diet. Less than ten percent of Americans consume the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, and 60 to 70 percent exceed the recommendations for empty calories like added sugars and saturated fat.
The study authors wrap up their analysis by stressing that “targeted efforts to reduce food waste can help individuals and households make positive changes toward increasing their food budgets and reducing environmental impact.”