Americans generate more than three times more food waste than imagined

Americans generate more than three times more food waste than imagined

New research from the University of Arizona shows that the average household creates 474 pounds of food debris per year — much higher than an earlier estimate of 156 pounds annually.

Waste News reports that Timothy Jones, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona who specialises in trash issues, said an intense analysis of the garbage habits of about 280 families in the Tucson area is debunking earlier theories. “Our old figure, we had about three pounds per week,” Jones said. “You can see it´s a lot higher than we thought. “We knew it was low because there were a lot of things we couldn´t evaluate and determine,” he said. “We never had the accuracy levels we had in this study. We knew it was underestimated.”

Jones said he expects research to continue until early 2003 as researchers look at the entire life cycle of food – from the fields to processing to consumption and disposal. Statistics just released by the university deal only with the household portion of the equation. Other details will be released next year, Jones said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency´s annual waste characterisation reported states that 11.2 per cent of all municipal solid waste consisted of food waste in 2000. Some 25.9 million tons of food was generated in 2000, including 700,000 tons that were recovered for a recycling rate of 2.6 per cent. The EPA included paper recovered for composting in this category in data collected by Franklin Associates Ltd. The 11.2 per cent share of total municipal solid waste for food debris in 2000 compares to 10.9 per cent in 1999, 10.1 per cent in 1990, 8.6 per cent in 1980, 10.6 per cent in 1970 and 13.8 per cent in 1960, the EPA reported.

University researchers did not ask family participants to handle their food waste any differently, such as segregating their food waste from the rest of the trash, because such an interjection would have thrown off the results, Jones said. Researchers sifted through each household´s mixed waste, pulling out and measuring the amount of food debris. Researchers also interviewed household members and did some observational work.

A key issue in the food waste chain is perishable foods. “You still have the fresh fruits and vegetables problem in the household,” Jones said. “The stuff just goes bad. It´s the same syndrome. It happens a lot.”

Households differed greatly in their disposal of waste. Chucking it in the trash is the most common way, but not by a majority of participants. “Every household had a totally different way of doing it,” Jones said. Some compost, while others feed wild or stray animals, he said. A small percentage route everything through garbage disposals, “but they´re rare,” Jones said.

The point at which food becomes waste also varies widely from family to family. Some throw food away after each meal; others don´t trash food until it becomes moldy. Handling even varies within households. “It depends on who cooks the dinner,” Jones said.

The federal government estimates that the nation spends more than US$1 billion per year to dispose of food waste.

Ano da Publicação: 2002
Autor: Kit Strange - Editor, Warmer Bulletin
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