One-third of all food produced is wasted, which turns out to be a major contributor to carbon emissions. Most of the carbon emissions associated with food waste are related to the production of the food. Reducing waste would trickle through the supply chain over time and ultimately less food would be produced.
A study at Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business looked at a particular strategy for reducing food waste’s environmental impact: opening more grocery stores.
It turns out that the more stores there are, the lower food waste will be. Cornell Professor Elena Belavina created a model that incorporates data from the grocery industry, the U.S. Census Bureau, and other academic studies.
When applied to Chicago, which is typical of many American cities, the model predicts that by adding just three or four markets within four-square-mile area, food waste would be reduced by 6 to 9 percent. This would achieve an emissions reduction comparable to converting more than 20,000 cars from fossil fuels to electric power. According to the model, not only would food waste be reduced, but so would grocery bills. By trimming food waste and travel costs, consumers would spend up to 4% less.
Most big cities are well below their ideal density of grocery stores that would minimize food waste. When consumers can purchase perishable goods nearby, they shop more often but buy less each time. There is less food sitting at home, so there is a much lower likelihood that food will spoil.
New York City, which has an abundance of produce stands and neighborhood markets, comes close to having the ideal density of markets. Basically, the way to reduce food waste is to bring less groceries home.
Better access to groceries could reduce food waste, emissions
Photo, posted March 22, 2009, courtesy of Nick Saltmarsh via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.