Abstract: At least 30% of food is wasted during the journey from farm to processor to retailer to consumer in the United States, accounting for an estimated 20% of the environmental impact of the food system. The food waste problem is well characterized, but solutions are not: there has been little rigorous comparison of the costs and potential benefits of food waste reduction interventions. Food waste reduction is often described as a “win–win,” benefiting consumers, the environment, and businesses’ bottom line. We present a method for evaluating this claim by accounting for the costs and environmental benefits of food waste reduction. The procedure involves assembling data on costs and efficacy of the intervention, scaling the costs up to the national level, estimating the quantity and value of food waste averted, and finally estimating the potential averted environmental impact. We apply our method to four representative nationwide interventions: consumer education and public awareness campaigns, spoilage prevention packaging for produce and meat, standardization of date labels, and foodservice waste tracking systems. The estimated annual cost of each intervention varied from $126 to $595 million. The environmental cost-effectiveness of the interventions varied two- to threefold (for example, 6 to 16 kg CO2 reduced per $1 invested). Outstanding questions include how to scale interventions to the national level and how to address the mismatch between who incurs the costs of implementation and who benefits. Our method can be adapted to waste interventions across the food system and in countries beyond the United States.
Read the full article in Resources, Conservation and Recycling.