TUCSON, Arizona, November 23, 2004 (ENS): When University
of Arizona anthropologist Dr. Timothy W. Jones sits
down to his Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, he is not
likely to put more on his plate than he can eat. Jones
has spent the last 10 years measuring food loss, in
the farms and orchards, warehouses, retail stores and
dining rooms of America and he knows how much of the
U.S. harvest goes to waste - nearly 50 percent.
A research associate with the the Contemporary Archaeology
Project at the University of Arizona, Jones has studied
food waste in detail, working for the past eight years
under a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
He has learned that many tons of edible food are landfilled
that could feed people who need it, and he calculated
that if the rate of loss was even partially corrected,
U.S. consumers and corporations could save tens of billions
of dollars every year.
Last year, as part of his research, Jones and his students
analyzed the garbage of 200 American families in Arizona
and Delaware to learn how much edible or once edible
food gets thrown out each day.
The researchers listed and weighed every kernel of
corn, slice of bread, half-eaten salad, and day-old
casserole that their test families threw in the garbage.
They found that, on average, a family discards 1.28
pounds of food a day, about 470 pounds per household
per year, or 14 percent of all food brought into the
"Some people believe that you cannot really store
food safely in the fridge," Jones said at the time.
"Anything that's left over automatically gets thrown
in the trash. Then there are households, where, well,
as long as it's not gooey or furry, you can eat it."
Jones estimates an average family of four tosses out
$590 per year in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain
Fifteen percent of that waste includes products still
within their expiration date but never opened, he found.
Nationwide, Jones says, household food waste adds up
to $43 billion, making it a serious economic problem.
Americans throw out about three times as much food
today as they did 20 years ago, Jones found during research
Jones and his research team that year found that Americans
threw away 1.3 pounds of food every day, or 474.5 pounds
annually, roughly the same result as the researchers
got with the 200 test families in 2003.
But compared with 1980s, the amount of discarded food
has tripled compared to the three pounds of garbage
each household threw away during a week at that time.
At the same time, the number of hungry people in the
United States is increasing. According to USDA figures,
in 2002, 34.9 million Americans lived in households
experiencing food insecurity, compared to 33.6 million
in 2001, and 31 million in 1999.
The USDA estimates that 30 percent of milk and other
dairy products, grain products, fresh fruits, and vegetables
were tossed, while only 15 percent of meat, dried beans,
nuts, and processed fruits and vegetables were disposed
of in landfills.
Jones says these losses can be viewed in terms of environmental
degradation. He estimates that cutting food waste by
half could reduce adverse environmental impacts by 25
percent through reduced landfill use, less soil depletion
and less need for applications of fertilizers, pesticides
In addition to households, Jones is currently researching
retail food waste, another sector where annual losses
run in the tens of billions of dollars.
Much food is wasted before it ever leaves the farm.
In his work with growers, Jones has learned that the
apple industry loses about 12 percent of its crop between
the tree and the marketplace, but that steady rate of
loss compares favorably with that of other fruit and
Jones says growers "will roam their fields while
on their cell phones to the commodity markets in Chicago,"
and attempt to bring home a financial windfall. If they
guess wrong, an entire crop could left in the field
to be plowed under.
Jones says there are three simple ways most people
can reduce their own food waste. First, they can buy
carefully, planning menus and making up specific grocery
Knowing what is stored in the refrigerator and pantry
that should be eaten while it is still useable, is a
second way to conserve food. And, Jones says, people
can get into the habit of freezing leftovers to be eaten
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All