Survey: Americans Concerned Over Wasted Food

Portrait of an attractive woman standing behind a kitchen counter filled with vegetables

“Just a little bit of plastic packaging can prevent a whole lot of food waste.”

Most of us know that wasted food is a big problem, and based on a recent survey[1] conducted on behalf of Plastics Make it Possible®, 70 percent of Americans say they are bothered by the amount of food wasted in the U.S. Most cite money lost as the leading cause for concern (79 percent), while nearly half of respondents also are bothered by others not having enough to eat (45 percent).

In contrast, only 15 percent made the link between food waste and adverse impacts on the environment. Yet the U.S. EPA says that wasted food is the most prevalent material in our landfills and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. EPA also notes as major concerns the wasted energy, water, and other resources that are used to produce the 30-40 percent of food that goes uneaten in the United States. And the United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) says the amount of cropland used to produce the world’s wasted food is equivalent to the size of Mexico.

If you often throw away uneaten food, you’re not alone: 76 percent of the surveyed households say they throw away leftovers at least once a month, while 53 percent throw them away every week. And 51 percent say they throw away food they bought but never used. On top of that, Americans overall may underestimate the value of that wasted food; survey respondents estimated wasting $640 in household food each year—U.S. government figures are closer to $900.

The good news? Plastics can play a significant role in minimizing food waste and its environmental impacts. Plastic packaging helps provide barriers to oxygen, light, temperatures, moisture, microbes, and other factors that lead to spoilage, so it can help us throw away less food. In fact, just a little bit of plastic packaging can prevent a whole lot of food waste.

To help protect your food budget and the environment, here are some simple tips for using plastics to help reduce wasted food in your home:

  • Wrapping some fruits and vegetables in a little bit of plastic wrap can help keep them fresher longer. For example, a plastic-wrapped cucumber can last three times longer than an unwrapped cuke, and wrapping a banana in lightweight plastic pouch can delay ripening by several days—making it less likely that you’ll end up having to throw away the produce you buy.
  • A wide variety of foods, such as dried fruit, nuts, cheese, and much more, are available in lightweight, re-sealable plastic pouches. The built-in zipper allows you to squeeze out most air and save the extra food for later, so it’s less likely to spoil. And the thin, lightweight plastic results in very little waste.
  • Search your supermarket shelves for individually packaged portions of side and main dishes—from lean meats to veggies—in lightweight plastic pouches that can be placed directly in the microwave and cooked in the package. Because these pouches are available in a variety of sizes, you can choose only the size and amount you need to help prevent wasted food and money.
  • If you buy and store large quantities of ingredients to prepare wholesome meals throughout the week, you can use lidded plastic storage containers, zipper bags, and wraps to help keep excess air away from these ingredients, which helps keep them fresh until they’re ready to use.
  • Leftovers? Plastic packaging can help keep our leftovers fresher longer so we throw away less food. And check the container label—many plastic storage containers are labeled for both freezer and microwave use, so we can conveniently store, reheat, and serve leftovers in the same container while easily controlling portion sizes.

Through the proper use of plastic storage containers, zipper bags, and food wraps that help seal out air to prevent spoilage and freezer burn, we all can extend the life of fresh foods and leftovers, reduce food waste, and extend our food budget … while also helping protect the environment.

TNS Global conducted the survey in April 2015 of 1,000 adults on attitudes toward food waste and packaging.