We all throw away food. In fact, in the United States, an estimated 40 percent of all food is trashed as it makes it way from farm to table, or more aptly, as it doesn’t. But how aware are we of our own waste? And what motivates us to rethink our shopping habits or reconsider that wilting lettuce in the back of the fridge?
Those are the questions a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University set out to answer in thefirst national consumer food waste survey conducted in the United States. The results were published this month in PLOS ONE. It turns out that a lot of us are giving ourselves more credit than we probably deserve. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the 1,010 survey respondents said they waste less food than the average American. What is more, 13 percent of respondents indicated that they don’t discard any food and 56 percent estimated that they discard only 10 percent of their food, though the estimated average food waste for consumers is around 25 percent.
Researchers also looked at consumer motivations for reducing food waste, including considerations like saving money, setting an example for children, guilt about waste, thinking about those who are hungry, and environmental concerns. Perhaps expectedly, saving money came first. Among parents, setting a good example for children. Concern about the environmental — including greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and energy associated with food waste — was ranked last by respondents.
“From an environmental perspective, one thing that was very striking was that we asked people what is their top motivation for reducing waste, and environmental issues came out dead last on that list,” says Roni Neff, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the authors of the article. Neff noted that this outcome could mean one of two things: people just aren’t that aware of the environmental footprint of their food, or environmental impacts aren’t a big motivator for those considering food waste.