Getting to Zero Food Waste Would Waste Time and Money that Can Be Better Spent

(p. A15) . . . is food waste that big of a deal? Start with the basic meaning of the term. The U.N. definition covers any “discarding or alternative (nonfood) use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption along the entire food supply chain.” Under that expansive meaning, giving your dog table scraps or putting them in your garden as fertilizer counts as “wasting” food, even though you’re putting it to productive use.

How much does this overstate true waste? In a recent article for the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, my colleagues and I suggest a new definition, one that simply covers food that has no productive use—in other words, it ends up in a landfill. We then show how widely cited official figures for food waste are both inconsistent with one another and may be significantly overstated.

Moreover, the optimal amount of food waste is not zero. Even the most efficient supply chain isn’t frictionless. If you are like me, your purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables more often than not reflect how you’d like to eat rather than how you actually eat. When you go out for dinner, you might end up not liking your meal, or you might order too much and not bring the leftovers home. Some of these issues may be solvable in theory, but the closer we get to zero waste, the more expensive trying to eliminate waste altogether would become.

For the full commentary, see:

Bellemare, Marc F. “Is ‘Food Waste’ Really Such a Waste?” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Aug. 25, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 24, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

Bellemare’s co-authored academic article, mentioned above, is:

Bellemare, Marc F., Metin Çakir, Hikaru Hanawa Peterson, Lindsey Novak, and Jeta Rudi. “On the Measurement of Food Waste.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 99, no. 5 (Oct. 2017): 1148-58.

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