Why This Researcher Thinks More Grocery Stores Will Help Reduce Food Waste
Food waste is a big problem, with about a third of food produced for consumption discarded each year according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Finding ways to reduce food waste is an important part of mitigating climate change, and big changes may be necessary. But a new paper has suggested more grocery stores as an answer to our food waste problem, no matter how counterintuitive it sounds—and it got us thinking about how we can make a difference, too.
How will more stores decrease food waste?
The paper was published in Manufacturing and Service Operations Management and was written by Elena Belavina, Ph.D., an associate professor at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. According to Belavina, adding more stores will be key to changing our shopping habits and, in turn, decreasing food waste.
According to the FAO , about 40% of food waste is produced at the retail and consumer level in industrialized countries, and a recent Penn State study found that U.S. households waste 31% of the food we buy.
By increasing food store density, Belavina believes people will shop in smaller amounts more frequently: "As a result, there is a much lower likelihood that something will be spoiled, and we'll actually be able to eat all of the stuff that we've purchased before its expiration date."
In a case study using Chicago, Belavina found that adding a few (three or four) new stores in a 4-square-mile area could reduce food waste by 6 to 9%, simply by making it easier to buy just what we need, not what we anticipate needing going forward.
While that may not seem like a large amount, she reports that the impact on emissions would be similar to switching 20,000 cars to electric power.
More intentional shopping can make a big difference.
Adding more stores to our cities is something that would need big institutional change, but there are changes we can make on the individual level, inspired by this study.
It may be tempting to do a big shop on a Sunday afternoon, when you've got the time (and the aspirations) for cooking tons of produce and healthy food for the week. But we should be honest with ourselves about how much of that we're actually going to use and adjust our list accordingly.
According to Belavina, New York City is the closest to an ideal store density, due to the volume of small produce stands and other local options. While more frequent, smaller, shops may seem like a hassle, if it's going to encourage better shopping habits that create less waste, it's worth considering. Plus, with fewer bags to carry, it's easier to get home on foot, saving you the cab fare (and the emissions the ride produces).
If you're feeling inspired to make effort to decrease your food waste, there's a lot of simple changes (other than more frequent shops) that can help you be sure that you actually use all the food in your fridge. And if you don't, you can divert your food waste from the landfill by getting into composting, which is much less scary than you may think.
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