Looking at food waste through the lens of climate change

Just sharing my recent overview article looking at food waste through the lens of climate change and the role of waste reduction in sustainable food systems:  Can Waste Reduction Move the Needle on Food Sustainability?

Some interesting stats from my analysis (all based on 2009 data, which I had used in my research in 2011-2012):

  • Total estimate of avoidable food waste in the United States is 55.41 MMT/yr, which amounts to 28.7% of total annual production by weight. This translates to 180 kg/yr of total avoidable waste on a per-capita basis, of which 110 kg represents consumer waste.
  • The total GHG emissions from the production, processing, packaging, distribution, retail, and disposal of the avoidable food waste in the U.S. amounts to 112.9 MMT CO2e per year - equivalent to about 2% of national emissions (this is more of a conservative lower bound).
  • Avoidable consumer waste costs a typical U.S. famiy of four approximately US$1600 per year.



Rick Shankman's picture

Question:  What if all your

“[The] consumer stage [of “food waste”] dominates in the US and Europe.”

Question:  What if all your conclusions were completely wrong?  In fact, not just blatantly incorrect, but functioning as a giant distraction/misdirection from the real climate-related issue of food waste?

Could there be an easy way to reveal the truth about the real source of the gigantic amounts of "food waste" you cite to in your research?  Could there be people in Europe who are trying to commercialize that "food waste" problem?

Answer:  Yes.

Truth:  The real source of the bulk of "food waste" (as you collectively call it) is actually "AFPW" (Agriculture and Food Processing/Forestry Processed Waste), from the unregulated wild growth of institutional farming and the commercial food processing industry.  No, it's not YOU (the public consumer) that's the problem, it's the mega-sized FOOD INDUSTRY that's making the bulk of that waste!

See... AgriMax (complete with lively music) to explain.

Again, this is more climate action distraction (focus on individual behavior), that ignors the true sources of the problem; sources, who undoubtedly appear in the MIT endowment's investment portfolio.

Curt Newton's picture

Thanks for raising this,

Thanks for raising this, Kumar.

I've noticed that in Drawdown's analysis, reducing food waste has potential to be the 3rd most impactful climate solution (only refrigerant management and offshore wind have greater CO2-EQ reduction), and it comes at essentially no cost.

With some estimates that the US wastes about 50% of its produce, there couldn't be any lower hanging climate action fruit.


Rajesh Kasturirangan's picture

Thanks, Kumar. Quick question

Thanks, Kumar. Quick question: how representative is the US in this regard?

In your article you mention that waste contributes about 2% of US emissions, while the comparable number in the UK is 3%, which suggest a much higher % of waste in the UK. Of course, US has much higher per capita emissions from transportation etc. What's the number in China or India? Is this primarily a rich world problem?

Kumar Venkat's picture

Rajesh, my sense is that the

Rajesh, my sense is that the US is quite representative of developed countries for food waste.

The UK number is higher in part because they account for consumer-level energy use and also due to underlying methodology differences. My 2% is a conservative lower bound, and doesn't include consumer energy use from cooking, refrigeration, shopping trips, etc. We know that food waste is an issue an India or China, but we don't have the type of comprehensive data that we need for the analysis. Some years ago, the situation in India was that the supply chain was the biggest culprit due to inadequate storage facilities (whereas the consumer stage dominates in the US and Europe).