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America s Supersized Energy Waste

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Each day, the average American household throws away a pound and a half of food. And, while this might not seem like much, but, over the course of a year, these pounds amount to the energy equivalent of throwing 350 million barrels of oil into the trashcan. To put it in perspective, this is about twice the amount of energy that Switzerland consumes in an entire year.

According to a study co-authored by University of Texas Professor Dr. Michael Webber and his former student researcher Amanda Cuellar*, American’s could save roughly 2 percent of its total energy consumption in one year if it could significantly reduce or eliminate its food waste. According to Dr. Webber, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at The University of Texas at Austin:

The amount of energy embedded in the food we throw away is more than all the energy we get from the corn ethanol we produce in a year, so this is a big number and it’s a big, underutilized policy option for us to consider.

The sentiment was echoed in Sheril Kirshenbaum’s article on wasted food and the corresponding energy waste in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen. In her article “A supersized waste of energy” Kirshenbaum writes that:

When asked what contributes to unnecessarily heavy energy consumption, many people envision oversized, inefficient SUVs. They are among the most visible culprits because we regularly observe rising gas prices and feel the pinch on our own wallets at the pump.

What may not come to mind is food production, which is, in reality, an extremely energy-intensive process. Of course, it seems like a necessary sacrifice given we must eat to survive.

But take a closer look at the journey from farm to table, and you’ll see that a tremendous amount of energy gets lost along the way. And at a time when nations around the world are becoming ever more desperate to secure remaining energy reserves, including Canada’s oilsands, it just doesn’t make any sense to be throwing so much of it away.”

With their study, Webber and Cuellar present an interesting summary of what types of food American’s waste. Included is the corresponding amount of energy embedded in that food.

To access the entire report, go here.

*Amanda Cuellar is currently a graduate student in MIT’s Technology and Policy Program. She is expected to graduate this spring.

Reference:

1. Cuellar, Amanda and M.E. Webber. Wasted Food, Wasted ENergy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (16), pp 6464–6469 DOI: 10.1021/es100310d Publication Date (Web): July 21, 2010

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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