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Americans throw away enough food every year to feed 200 million adults

The amount of food Americans throw away has risen by approximately 50 percent since 1974 according to a new study in PLoS ONE. American now waste on average 1,400 calories per person everyday, equaling 150 trillion calories a year nationwide. Considering that the average person requires approximately 2,000 calories a day, this means that the US could feed over 200 million adults every year with the food that ends up in the trash. Currently, the UN estimates that one billion people—an historical record—are going hungry worldwide.

The study found that the wasted food had large environmental impacts in the United States as well: food waste in America consumes approximately 300 million barrels of oil every year from fossil fuels used in farming. In 2003 this was 4 percent of the nation’s total oil consumption, which is one of the nation’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers note that another hidden factor—rotting food—links food waste and climate change. Rotting food “produces substantial quantities of methane-gas with 25 fold more potent global warming potential than CO2 which would have been the primary end product had the food been eaten and metabolized by humans” the researchers write.

Wasted food is also impacting America’s freshwater supply. According to the study a quarter of all freshwater usage in the US goes to produce food that is never eaten.

“Assuming that agriculture utilizes about 70% of the freshwater supply, our calculations imply that more than one quarter of total freshwater use is accounted for by wasted food,” the researchers explain.

The study used data from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) regarding the amount of food grown in America. But to decipher how much food was actually consumed and how much wasted the study employed a complex mathematical model that factored in that the average weight of Americans has risen steadily over the past 30 years.

CITATION: Hall KD, Guo J, Dore M, Chow CC (2009) The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. PLoS ONE 4(11): e7940. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007940.

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