If you knew that throwing away food was increasing greenhouse gas emissions or negatively affecting the earth, would it change your behavior? A study published in the January issue of PLOS ONE showed that diners waste far less food when they’re schooled on the harm their leftovers inflict on the environment.
Even though American consumers throw away about 80 billion pounds of food a year, only about half are aware that food waste is a problem. In fact, the majority of people perceive benefits to throwing food away, some of which have limited basis in fact (e.g., it will reduce the chance of foodborne illness).
Researchers developed a national survey to identify Americans’ awareness and attitudes regarding food waste. In July 2015, it was administered to 500 people representative of the U.S. population. The study found that 53% of respondents knew that wasting food was a problem. Among other findings, the survey revealed patterns in how Americans think about food waste:
- Perceived benefits: 68% of respondents believe that throwing away food after the expiration date reduces the chance of foodborne illness, and 59% believe some food waste is necessary to be sure meals are fresh and flavorful.
- Feelings of guilt: 77% feel a general sense of guilt when throwing away food. At the same time, only 58% understand that throwing away food is bad for the environment, and only 42% believe wasted food is a major source of wasted money.
- Control: 51% believe it would be difficult to reduce household food waste, and 42% say they don’t have enough time to worry about it. Still, 53% admit they waste more food when they buy in bulk or purchase large quantities during sales. At the same time, 87% think they waste less food than similar households.