Food Waste: A Global Problem With Surprisingly Simple Solutions

The Food Waste Problem

It’s no secret that we humans waste a fair bit of food. It’s estimated that globally nearly a third of all food produced is wasted and the sustenance squandering is even worse for many developed nations. In the U.S. roughly 40% of all food produced is lost or wasted, with the average person tossing out around 238 pounds of it per year. The impact of all this inefficiency is profound, ranging from the environmental consequences, to the economic effects, and of course the moral implications. The scale is so vast it can simply be hard to fathom, so some facts and figures may help put it into perspective:

Given the severity and gargantuan impact of this issue it’s surprisingly a lesser covered topic. If food waste could garner as much attention as plastic straws or Kim Kardashian’s rear end we might be in a better place. Perhaps, the aversion to the issue is partly a product of a major cause: us. Household waste, alternatively referred to as consumer level waste, accounts for approximately 40-50% of food waste, the largest single component. But, before you spiral in into an endless depth of despair and self loathing know that simple solutions abound. Unlike other issues of the day such as geopolitical tensions, sovereign debt crises, or global contagion, an effective solution for food waste is much more tangible. It starts with making a weekly meal plan.

Meal Planning: A Simple Solution

Given that households (i.e. you and me) account for such a large share of the food waste pie it’s reassuring to know that we can make a difference too. The big drivers of food waste at home are probably no surprise. Spoilage, or food going bad, accounts for about two-thirds of it, and over-preparing, or cooking and serving too much, accounts for the remainder. While a good portion of the "spoilage" problem may be more perception than reality due to deceptive food labels, it's an issue nonetheless. So the question at hand is, how do we prevent each of these? One of the key solutions is devilishly simple, a bit of planning and management. Meal planning is one of the core strategies recommended by a slew of authorities on the subject ranging from the EPA, to the USDA, and the much revered Mayo Clinic

The process of meal planning helps us think ahead to what we actually need to buy for the week. When we meal plan it forces us to thoughtfully build our grocery list, which usually involves a quick accounting of what we already have on hand vs. what we need to purchase at the store. The practice helps keep you more aware of what’s in your fridge and pantry, which reduces the chances of food going bad, and prevents us from buying groceries we likely won’t need. This again reduces the odds that we purchase items we’ll eventually toss. Furthermore, planning ahead helps us contemplate how much food we’ll need to prepare for a meal. This simple exercise decreases the likelihood that we’ll cook too much and end up discarding the overage. Those are some of the simple ways in which the process of meal planning cuts at the core causes of household food waste, spoilage and over-preparing.

Now, I know this might sound like a time consuming task. It’s a simple concept, but as is often true when life gets involved, things become much murkier. So, in our next post we’ll make the case for another under appreciated benefit of meal planning - it’ll actually save you a boatload of money as well.

Until then, here are some more astounding facts and figures about food waste to ponder:

If you’d like to get started with meal planning today check out our free Google Sheet Meal Plan Templates, or to really simplify matters sign up for the Budgeat app today.