Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Our Sustainable Future: Saving energy by reducing
food waste

October 27, 2010




Reducing the waste of food in the United
States could save the energy equivalent
of 350 million barrels of oil a year.
Credit: iStock

Summary

Generations of Moms and Grandmas have preached the virtues
of not wasting food. Now, scientists are reporting a compelling
new reason to follow this wisdom: It saves energy, and lots of
it. They found that the United States could save the energy
equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil a year by
reducing food wastage.

Generations of Moms and Grandmas have preached the virtues of not wasting food. We all know why. It saves money at home and fights global hunger. Now, a new study published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal provides a compelling new reason not to waste food: It saves energy, and lots of it. Tons of pizza, broccoli, milk and other wasted foods translate into the equivalent of hundreds of millions of barrels of wasted oil. How? Here’s study co-author Michael Webber of the University of Texas in Austin:

“What we learned is that food contains energy and requires energy to produce, process, and transport. Estimates indicate that between 8 and 16 percent of total energy consumption in the United States over the course of the year went toward food production in 2007. And despite this large energy investment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that people then waste about 20 percent of their food in the United States. This means that waste might represent a largely unrecognized opportunity to conserve energy and help control global warming.”

Dr. Webber and colleague Amanda CuÉllar analyzed the amount of wasted food in the United States and the associated energy wastage. They concluded that the U.S. 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. Here again is Dr. Webber:

“Consequently, the energy embedded in wasted food represents a substantial target for decreasing energy consumption in the United States. The wasted energy calculated here is a conservative estimate both because the food waste data are incomplete and outdated and the energy consumption data for food service and sales are also incomplete. So we’re working with less data than we know exists and if we had all that information we’d probably find food waste is higher and the energy embedded in that food waste is higher.”

The study carries an important message that reinforces what Moms and Grandmas have been saying all along: Stop wasting food. Dr. Webber describes the benefits for consumers:

“The take-home message for consumers is that if they reduce how much food they waste not only will they save some money but they’ll also do a lot to reduce energy consumption and protect the environment.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Today’s podcast was written by Mark Sampson. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

empty
J Michael Webber, Ph.D.
Photo courtesy of Holly Port