The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at data from six national studies to determine the water and nitrogen resources lost in the EU due to consumer food waste – finding that the bulk of the avoidable food waste was vegetables, fruit and cereals, partly due to the shorter shelf-life of these foods.
"In some ways it's good that this waste is 'avoidable'," said Davy Vanham, a lead author on the paper. "Because it means we're able to do something about it."
While the bulk of food waste was vegetables, fruit and cereals, the authors found that wasted meat contributes more to lost nitrogen and water resources.
"Meat production uses much more resources in the first place," said Vanham. "So even a little bit of waste can have a big effect in terms of lost resources."
Understanding food waste
Due to a lack of data on national food waste statistics, uncertainty in (consumer) waste quantities is very high, said the team – who noted that food waste has never been previously assessed in studies for the EU.
Vanham and his team aimed to quantify EU consumer food waste, and the associated natural resources required for its production (in term of water and nitrogen) as well as estimating the uncertainty of these values using national food wastage data for six of the 28 EU Member States.
"Ideally, we'd like data from all the Member States--but the data from the other countries is not as reliable. Certainly it would be useful if governments invested more in measuring waste with greater accuracy,” said Vanham.
The team used data from these six national studies as a base to average food waste for the entire European Union, finding that total EU consumer food waste averages 123kg per person annually and makes up 16% of all food reaching consumers.
Averaged over all the citizens of the EU together, this is 22 million tonnes of food each year. However, nearly 80% of this waste is ‘avoidable’, said the team – noting that on average 97 kg per person per year is edible food that is not consumed.
In July the European Parliament urged EU countries to cut down on waste by getting supermarkets to give their unsold food to charities, rather than destroy it. The move came after French lawmakers brought in legislation in May that requires supermarkets to donate all unsold, edible food to charity in a bid to cut food waste.
According to Vanham, there are many possible ways to reduce this waste.
"Education in schools would be valuable--and the food production industry is quite cautious--a lot of food is still 'good' but is thrown away when it passes its sell-by date,” he said.
The economic situation of the family also has an effect on food waste, as the cost of food becomes a less significant portion of the household's daily expenditure, said the team.
"We've noticed with Romania, and Africa, that there is less food waste as the population tends to have less money" said Vanham.
Source: Environmental Research Letters
Volume 10, Number 8, doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/8/084008
“Lost water and nitrogen resources due to EU consumer food waste”
Authors:D Vanham, et al