Food for thought – energy in food waste
In the United States, about 10% of the energy we consume is used for food production. Each year, we throw away about 27% of the food we produce. On the surface, this means that the energy that we throw away in food each year is the equivalent of the electricity (kWh’s) used in 24.4 million homes – and this value doesn’t include the energy we spend to move food around and preserve it until we are ready to eat.
One month ago today, in the 10/8/10 installment of Science Friday, Michael Webber (my advisor at the University of Texas) was interviewed about an article he wrote with Sheril Kirshenbaum for New Scientist about the energy we throw away with our food waste. This article discussed how enormous energy savings could be realized if we could reduce the amount of food that we throw away each year in the United States. A short excerpt from the article:
IT IS no secret that meeting the world’s growing energy demands will be difficult. So far, most of the focus has been on finding oil in areas that are ever more difficult to access – think BP’s Deepwater Horizon well – bringing new fossil fuels such as tar sands online and increasing energy efficiency.
Yet we have been overlooking an easier way. We could save an enormous amount of energy by tackling the huge problem of food waste. Doing so is likely to be quicker than many of the other options on the table, while also saving money and reducing emissions.
The energy footprint of food is enormous. Consider the US, where just 5 per cent of the global population consumes one-fifth of the world’s energy. Around 15 per cent of the energy used in the US is swallowed up by food production and distribution.
This article, and last month’s Science Friday interview with Dr. Webber, stem from work previously done with Amanda Cuellar – a former Webber Energy Group member who is now studying at MIT. Their work at the nexus of food and energy estimates the amount of energy that is wasted when we throw away food if we include not just the energy invested in food production, but also transportation and preservation. They found that, we throw away closer 2,030 trillion Btu’s of energy each year in food waste – or the equivalent of the electricity used in almost 50 million U.S. homes each year. Their findings were published by Environmental Science and Technology on July 21, 2010 in a paper titled “Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States” which is available here.