Wasted Food, Wasted Energy

Joanna Schroeder

Looking to save some coin on your energy bills? Then stop wasting food. According to a new report published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, “Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States,” consumers could immediately save the energy equivalent of around 350 million barrels of oil a year though the curbing of food waste. Why? In part because the study estimated that it takes the equivalent of about 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, package, prepare, preserve, and distribute a year’s worth of food in the U.S.

Authors Michael Webber and Amanda Cuéllar note that food contains energy and requires energy to produce, process and transport. As a matter of fact, rising energy costs are the largest contributor to rising food costs. The authors’ estimates indicate that between 8 and 16 percent of energy consumption in the United States went toward food production in 2007. However, it appears that consumers don’t take energy costs into account when eating as the USDA estimates that people in the U.S. waste nearly 27 percent of their food.

The report also estimated that when accounting for wasted food and the energy needed to ready it for consumption, U.S. consumers wasted about 2030 trillion BTU of energy in 2007, or the equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil. That represents about 2 percent of annual energy consumption in the U.S. “Consequently, the energy embedded in wasted food represents a substantial target for decreasing energy consumption in the U.S.,” the article states. But the authors note the problem is probably worse because the numbers used were incomplete, outdated and conservative.

The authors concluded that the energy discarded in wasted food is greater than the energy available from many popular efficiency and energy procurement strategies, such as the annual production of ethanol from grains and annual petroleum available from drilling in the outer continental shelf. “A decrease in food waste must be accompanied with a retooling of the food supply chain to ensure that the energy consumed during food production does in fact decrease with a decrease in food waste.”

Energy, Ethanol, Oil