A study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics calculated that American households waste, on average, almost a third of the food they acquire—a value of $240 billion annually or $1,800+ per household/year.
It’s hard to analyze the level of food waste at the individual household level because of the lack of comprehensive, current data. In order to circumvent this, the researchers borrowed methodology from production economics, which models the production function of transforming inputs into outputs. They also utilized methodology from nutritional science, by which a person’s height, weight, gender, and age can be used to calculate metabolic energy requirements to maintain body weight.
Using this approach, the researchers analyzed data primarily from 4,000 households that participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, known as FoodAPS. This data served as the “input.”
FoodAPS also collected biological measures of participants, enabling the researchers to apply formulas from nutritional science to determine basal metabolic rates and calculate the energy required for household members to maintain body weight, which is the “output.” The difference between the amount of food acquired and the amount needed to maintain body weight represents the production inefficiency in the model, which translates to uneaten and therefore wasted food.
“Based on our estimation, the average American household wastes 31.9% of the food it acquires,” said Edward Jaenicke, professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, in a university press release. “More than two-thirds of households in our study have food-waste estimates of between 20% and 50%. However, even the least wasteful household wastes 8.7% of the food it acquires.”
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