Do you think twice before throwing out your food scraps and leftovers? Maybe you should. Wasted food is a bigger problem than most of us realise. Globally, about one-third of food products go to waste every year, which is why taking simple steps to prevent food waste can impact environmental sustainability (1).
Food goes to waste at many stages between farm and plate, but the majority of waste is created at home (2). People might not realise it but throwing away food also wastes the water, land and energy used to produce it. Who would have thought that reducing your food waste at home is among one of the most powerful steps towards helping the environment?
Global Study: Food Waste and Healthy Diets
Those who choose healthy diets may have the greatest opportunity to impact the problem of food waste. Researchers examined food waste and its relationship to diet quality and environmental sustainability in a recent study (3). Their data revealed that between 2007 and 2014, consumers wasted almost half a kilo of food per person every day. Most of the waste – 39 percent – came from uneaten fruits and vegetables, followed by smaller amounts of dairy, meat and grains (3). The researchers estimated that over 800 calories’ worth of food per person was thrown out each day!
Consumers’ food waste equates to about 30 million acres of cropland used each year to grow food that is ultimately thrown away. This amount of farmland requires just under 354,000 tonnes of pesticides, almost 2.5 million tonnes of fertiliser and over 15 trillion gallons of irrigation water, according to the researchers’ analysis (3).
How Does Food Waste Relate to Diet Quality?
You might assume that healthier diets correlate with better environmental sustainability. However, the results of this study revealed a relationship between diet quality and food waste that had not been accounted for in previous research (3).
A high-quality diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, which generally require less cropland compared to other foods but greater agricultural inputs per unit of land, such as water or fertiliser. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables are the foods most commonly wasted at home (3).
The key takeaway of this study? Those who choose healthy diets can also have the greatest positive impact on environmental sustainability by taking small steps to reduce food waste.
Simple Steps, Big Impact
There’s a lot you can do in your own kitchen to reduce food waste and your environmental footprint. Here are four simple steps to help you get started.
1. Take Note
Shop in your own cupboards and fridge before you head to the supermarket. By taking a mental note of what’s in the kitchen, you’re more likely to buy only what you need and use up what you already have on hand.
2. Make a Plan
Meal planning is one of the simplest ways to prevent waste. When you decide what will be on your menu ahead of time, you’ll know exactly what ingredients you need. You’ll also save time trying to figure out what’s for dinner every night or rushing to the store for last-minute ingredients.
3. Shop with a List
Research suggests that many people buy much more food than they need (2). This is one reason that such a large proportion of the waste that occurs in our food system happens at home. Make a shopping list based on your meal plan and stick to it!
4. Prep Like a Pro
When it comes to your fridge, what’s out of sight is out of mind. Cleaning, preparing and storing fresh produce so it’s easy to see and ready to use is one way to keep fruits and vegetables from being forgotten at the bottom of your crisper. You might even find yourself reaching for more fruits and vegies every day.
A surprising amount of food goes to waste each year, unnecessarily depleting water, land and other resources. If you eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you can make an important contribution to environmental sustainability by reducing food waste in your own home.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome. 2011.
- De Laurentiis V, Corrado S, Sala S. Quantifying household waste of fresh fruit and vegetables in the EU. Waste Manag. 2018 Jul;77:238-251. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2018.04.001.
- Conrad Z, Niles MT, Neher DA, Roy ED, Tichenor NE, Jahns L. Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability. Marelli B, ed. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(4):e0195405. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0195405.