Consumers are likely wasting much more food than commonly believed, according to a new study by researchers at Wageningen University and Research in The Netherlands. The study was published Feb. 12, 2020 in the journal PLOS ONE.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that, in 2005, one-third of all food available for human consumption was wasted (in this context, “waste” refers to food fit for human consumption that went uneaten). This figure has continued to serve as reference for the extent of global food waste. However, the FAO methodology does not factor in consumer behavior regarding food waste and considers food supply alone in determining the extent of waste. This study investigated if and how consumer affluence may affect food waste.
Using a human metabolism model and data from FAO, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization, the study investigators quantified the relationship between food waste and consumer affluence. Using this model, they created an international dataset providing estimates of global as well as country specific food waste.
The authors found that once consumer affluence reaches a spending threshold of approximately $6.70/day per capita per day, consumer food waste starts to rise, increasing rapidly with rising affluence at first, and then at much slower rates at higher levels of affluence.
Their data also showed that FAO’s estimates of consumer food waste may be too low. While the agency estimated food waste to be 214 Kcal/day per capita in 2015, this model estimated food waste as 527 Kcal/day per capita for the same year.
The researchers conclude that, to achieve low global food waste, a joint focus on reducing high food waste levels in high income countries and preventing waste levels from rising rapidly in lower-middle income countries where affluence is increasing may be needed. The authors believe that the method behind this study can be used as a basis to introduce the affluence elasticity of waste as a new concept in future models, better understand and assess current food waste magnitudes, and help measure global progress in reducing food waste.