Between 2007-2014, US consumers wasted about one pound of food per person each day. Growing this wasted food used 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water, 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, and 780 million pounds of pesticides, according to a study published April 18, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Zach Conrad from the US Department of Agriculture, and colleagues.
Maintaining the environment while also improving diet quality is an important and challenging global issue. Previous research has examined the relationship between diet and environmental sustainability, but food waste has not yet been considered as a factor.
To investigate the impact of diet quality on food waste and environmental sustainability, Conrad and colleagues collected data on food intake and diet quality from the Healthy Eating Index-2015 as well as data on food waste. Using a biophysical simulation model they were able to estimate the amount of cropland used to produce wasted food. Data from various US government sources also allowed the researchers to estimate the amount of agricultural amendments such as irrigation water, pesticides and fertilizers used to produce uneaten food.
The researchers found that US consumers wasted approximately one pound of food per person daily from 2007-2014, with 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this food every year. Interestingly, higher quality diets with more fruits and vegetables were associated with more food waste, but used less cropland than lower quality diets, while simultaneously wasting more water and pesticide resources.
These findings indicate that simultaneous efforts to improve diet quality and reduce food waste are needed. The authors suggest that educating consumers on how to prepare and store fruits and vegetables is one practical method to help reduce food waste.
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Citation: Conrad Z, Niles MT, Neher DA, Roy ED, Tichenor NE, Jahns L (2018) Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0195405. https:/
Funding: This research was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 3062-51000-051-00D. There was no additional external funding received for this study.
Competing Interests: Dr. Meredith Niles is on the Board of Directors at PLOS ONE. This role has in no way influenced the outcome or development of this work or the peer-review process. This does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.