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Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability

Improving diet quality while simultaneously reducing environmental impact is a critical focus globally. Metrics linking diet quality and sustainability have typically focused on a limited suite of indicators, and have not included food waste. To address this important research gap, we examine the relationship between food waste, diet quality, nutrient waste, and multiple measures of sustainability: use of cropland, irrigation water, pesticides, and fertilizers. Data on food intake, food waste, and application rates of agricultural amendments were collected from diverse US government sources. Diet quality was assessed using the Healthy Eating Index-2015. A biophysical simulation model was used to estimate the amount of cropland associated with wasted food.

This analysis finds that US consumers wasted 422g of food per person daily, with 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this food every year. This accounts for 30% of daily calories available for consumption, one-quarter of daily food (by weight) available for consumption, and 7% of annual cropland acreage. Higher quality diets were associated with greater amounts of food waste and greater amounts of wasted irrigation water and pesticides, but less cropland waste. This is largely due to fruits and vegetables, which are health-promoting and require small amounts of cropland, but require substantial amounts of agricultural inputs. These results suggest that simultaneous efforts to improve diet quality and reduce food waste are necessary. Increasing consumers’ knowledge about how to prepare and store fruits and vegetables will be one of the practical solutions to reducing food waste.

Source:journal PLOS ONE (The article"Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability"​​​​​​ is open access

Before you toss that bruised apple or let your leftovers spoil in the fridge, you might want to digest this: New research finds that Americans waste nearly a pound of food per person every day. That’s roughly equal to 30 percent of the average American’s daily calories. And throwing our food into the trash wastes the land, labor, and resources that went into producing it. 

Interestingly, new evidence suggests healthy eaters are creating the most food waste. The study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday found that people who eat higher quality diets—incorporating foods such as fruits and vegetables—also tend to throw more food away.  The authors, who looked at both food discarded at home and when people eat out, say its the first study to explore connections between diet quality, food waste, and environment impacts.

“Food waste is an issue for everyone,” Lisa Jahns, a coauthor on the paper, wrote in an email. “We all want the system to work well and to work for everyone’s benefit including the environment’s. Consumers sometimes don’t directly connect the dots about what happens with food waste because the consumer only see the immediate waste, not the larger costs that happen out of their sight.”

  • Between 2007-2014, US consumers wasted nearly 150,000 tons of food per day, the study found.

Notably, of 22 food groups studied, the researchers found that much of what people threw away was foods that are generally considered to be key parts of healthy diets, rather than junk food. Fruits, vegetables, and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes (a salad or fruit cocktail, for example) accounted for more than a third of all food waste. Dairy followed at 17 percent, and meat and mixed meat dishes accounted for 14 percent of discarded food. Source: ( A New Study Shows the Stunning Amount of Food People Toss in the Garbage Every Day. And it’s people eating the healthiest who are throwing away the most food.Mother Jones)