Were you aware that American consumers throw away about 80 billion pounds of food per year? Furthermore, only about ½ are aware that food waste is even a problem. It has been identified by researchers that most people believe there are benefits to throwing food away and some have limited basis in fact.
PLOS One published a study that is the second peer-reviewed large-scale consumer survey about food waste and the first in the U.S. that identifies patterns regarding how Americans form their attitudes on food waste.
The results of this study provide the data required to develop targeted efforts to reduce the amount of food that U.S. consumers carelessly toss into their garbage can each year, according to co-author Brian Roe, the McCormick Professor of Agricultural Marketing and Policy at The Ohio State University.
A national survey was developed to identify Americans’ awareness and attitudes regarding their waste products. There were 500 people in 2015 in the survey that represented the U.S. population.
About 53% of the respondents said they were aware that food waste was a problem and that is 10% higher than a Johns Hopkins study published last year. This would indicate the awareness problem could be growing.
Consumer awareness must be increased to change their behavior. If they don’t realize there is a problem, they don’t change their behavior. Perhaps going forward more behavior changes will help lessen the food waste problem.
The study also found that people consider three things regarding food waste. There are practical benefits such as a reduced risk of foodborne illness (even when they feel guilty about wasting food), and their behaviors and how their household is managed, influences food waste and patterns in how they think about food waste.
About 77% feel a sense of guilt at throwing out food but only 58% indicate they understand throwing it out is bad for the environment. Only 42% believe that wasted food is a major source of wasted money.
And third, 51% believe it would be difficult to reduce household food waste while 42% don’t have enough time to worry about it. Also, 53% admit they waste more food when they buy in bulk and 87% think they waste less food than similar households.
Removing “sell by” and “use by” from food packaging could significantly reduce the amount of good food that is trashed. The date is rarely about food safety, but people are confused about the array of dates on food packages. The researchers see an opportunity to help consumers understand the negative environmental impacts of food waste. Food waste in the U.S. is the most destructive type of household waste in terms of greenhouse gas emission and the largest source of municipal solid waste.
Researchers also believe that better data on measuring household waste could lead to improvements. Right now everybody thinks they are doing as good or better a job than everybody else. The research group is developing a smart phone app to better measure household food waste. This study’s funding came from the McCormick Program in Agricultural Marketing and Policy in Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.
– Dr Fredda Branyon