China wastes huge amounts of food

If someone invites you out for dinner in China, chances are you won’t go hungry. Tradition dictates that the host order a lavish spread for his or her guests, even if much of it goes uneaten.

But these generous practices are contributing to huge amounts of food waste in China, researchers suggest in Environmental Science & Technology. About one-fifth of the grain produced in the country is wasted, they estimate, and precious water and land along with it.

The team calculated the amount of food lost “from field to fork,” whether in harvest, storage, transport, processing, or by consumers. People wasted an average of 7 percent of their grains at home, but that number nearly tripled in restaurants. Overall, China loses 19 percent of its grains, or about 82 million tonnes, each year. About 20-30 percent of fruits and vegetables, 5-15 percent of eggs, and 3-15 percent of meat is also wasted, the team estimates.

Those food losses translate to water and land waste. About 135 billion cubic meters of water was used to produce unused crops in 2010, the authors say. And 26 million hectares of land “were used to produce food that was lost or went to waste,” they write. “This is equivalent to the total arable land of Mexico”.

The problem could be partly addressed by educating the public about the benefits of conserving food, the team says. But Americans shouldn’t feel too smug. Other research suggests that the United States wastes about 40 percent of its food. Roberta Kwok | 2 September 2013

Source: Liu, J. et al. 2013. Food losses and waste in China and their implication for water and land. Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/es401426b.

Environmental Impact of Food Waste in China

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