A study by the National Academy of Sciences says that cutting restaurant portions and reforming garbage fees are some of the best ways to reduce the huge amount of food that Americans waste, about 30% of what is produced.
The 265-page study released Friday also calls on industry groups to push for legislation that would standardize date labeling on packages as a way to reduce consumer confusion about how long food can be safely eaten.
But the researchers warned that the problem is complicated and could be worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report said there are 11 different and complicated drivers of consumer food waste, including industry marketing practices; lack of consumer knowledge about the issue; government policies that encourage food waste; and the relative convenience or inconvenience to consumers of wasting less food.
“When you buy a pint of strawberries at the grocery store, you never do so intending to waste them. But factors such as this being your only trip to the store this week, or a two-for-one sale, can lead you to buy more strawberries than you actually want and waste what you don’t finish,” said Barbara Schneeman, a nutrition specialist at the University of California, Davis, who chaired the committee of researchers that developed the report.
Reducing food waste is seen as a significant way to reduce hunger while also reducing land and water demand and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Food that goes to waste is responsible for about 4.4 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually.
Another recommendation that came out of the study: Manufacturers, retailers and restaurants, and other food service outlets should provide promotions and cues that encourage consumers to buy the right amount and variety of products. Stores and restaurants also should change the way they present food.
Ways to cut down on waste in restaurants and cafeterias include using smaller plates as well as serving smaller portions and removing trays, the study said.
To further discourage waste, local governments should consider basing solid waste fees on the volume of waste and making composting mandatory, the report said.
The researchers also said the federal government has a role to play. The Agriculture Department, Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration "should lead the development of a centralized platform for a behavior change campaign, the report said.
"This campaign should be designed both to inform the public about the environmental, economic, and social benefits of reducing food waste and tools and strategies for reducing their own waste, and to address non-conscious drivers of food waste, as well as consumers’ ability and opportunity to change wasteful behavior," the report said.
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Ahead of the study’s release, CEOs of 14 major food manufacturers and retailers announced the formation of an industry coalition that will work toward cutting global food loss in half. The Coalition of Action on Food Waste’s first task is to compile data on food loss and release the report by next year. The companies also committed to developing strategies for preventing food waste.
The 14 companies are Ahold Delhaize, Barilla, Bel Group, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Majid Al Futtaim, McCain Foods, Merck Animal Health, Metro AG, Migros Ticaret, Nestlé, Sainsbury, Tesco, and Walmart.
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