October 06, 2010
US Food Waste: 350 Million Barrels Of Oil Per Year?

Translated into the oil used to make it Americans might waste 350 million barrels of oil per year or almost 1 million barrels per day. That's almost 5% of current daily oil consumption.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2010 — Scientists have identified a way that the United States could immediately save the energy equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil a year — without spending a penny or putting a ding in the quality of life: Just stop wasting food. Their study, reported in ACS' semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that it takes the equivalent of about 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, package, prepare, preserve and distribute a year's worth of food in the United States.

Michael Webber and Amanda Cuéllar note that food contains energy and requires energy to produce, process, and transport. Estimates indicate that between 8 and 16 percent of energy consumption in the United States went toward food production in 2007. Despite this large energy investment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that people in the U.S. waste about 27 percent of their food. The scientists realized that the waste might represent a largely unrecognized opportunity to conserve energy and help control global warming.

Whenever I read about energy waste I think of that as good news. If we did not waste any oil then we'd be much harder pressed to cut back when world oil production goes into permanent decline. But all those SUVs and the wasted food means we've got lots of areas where we can cut back on waste.

We also have the potential to save energy by using more energy efficient means to produce, process, and transport it. Changes in farming methods, more sold in bulk (therefore less packaging costs), greater use of rail, less use of air cargo, and other changes could (and eventually will) greatly reduce the amount of energy used per unit of food consumed.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 October 06 10:04 PM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations

Fat Man said at October 7, 2010 5:50 AM:

Another reason to eat your broccoli.

Nick G said at October 7, 2010 10:15 AM:

Two thoughts.

1st, they're talking about "the energy equivalent of about 350 million barrels of oil". The single largest food-related energy input is refrigeration.

2nd, forcing kids to eat everything on their plate in order to save food is a bad idea. Much better to reduce portion size, especially at restaurants.

Bruce said at October 7, 2010 2:50 PM:

I know. Lets have a planned economy where "experts" tell producers exactly how much food to produce and where to ship it.

It worked for the USSR!!!!

Randall Parker said at October 7, 2010 9:10 PM:


What's your source for the contribution of refrigeration? What's the absolute percentage for it? Also, does that include home refrigerators?


My point isn't to promote planning in food production or consumption. I do not think it wise to try to make people waste less food. It is just good to know we've got a buffer due to inefficiencies and waste.

Bruce said at October 7, 2010 11:09 PM:

Randall, have you considered that a choice results in some waste. That if there was zero waste, there would be lineups to ensure you got you loaf of bread or whatever you want.

This is just one a million studies attempting to foist central planning lack of choice on people in the name of mythical global warming.

The warmenists are guilt peddlers.

Randall Parker said at October 9, 2010 10:55 AM:


Decision-making has a cost. Gathering more information to make better decisions has a cost. Thinking about whether some left-overs in the fridge should get eaten has a cost. Eating left-overs of a disappointing dinner dish has a cost.

Or look at restaurants. Trying to avoid waste at a restaurant with more just-in-time buying has the cost of more frequent deliveries (labor and energy costs) as well as greater risk of running out of something that customers want.

I could go on. It is not surprising that a lot of food gets thrown away. There are other efficiencies and lifestyle considerations that cause waste.

Also, I get that some academics do research due to ideological desire to push some agenda. But that doesn't mean I can't find my own uses for their findings.

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