01/10/2017 03:03 pm ET | Updated Jan 11, 2017

The Maddening Reason Food Waste Is On The Rise Among The Rich

It might not surprise you though.

Arterra via Getty Images
In 2015, households in the United Kingdom wasted 7.3 million tons of food. That marked an increase from 7 million tons in 2012. 

This article is part of HuffPost’s Reclaim campaign, an ongoing project spotlighting the world’s waste crisis and how we can begin to solve it.

The amount of food wasted in households in the developed world continues to hit astronomical heights. And the driving factors behind the increase illustrate just how elusive a solution is.

In 2015, households in the United Kingdom squandered 7.3 million tons of food. That was up from 7 million tons in 2012, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, or WRAP, a U.K.-based nonprofit that works to foster a more sustainable economy.

According to the report, the increase was due in large part to two factors: declining food costs and a rise in earnings. Essentially, when food prices drop and incomes jump, consumers are more inclined to throw out perfectly edible food.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Food waste tends to increase when wages increase and food prices drop, according to a report released by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, a U.K.-based nonprofit.

Such behaviors aren’t isolated to U.K. households and actually reflect global tendencies of well-off people, experts say.

“Simply put, consumers with higher incomes can afford habitual household food waste,” said Nicole Civita, professor and director of the Food Recovery Project with the University of Arkansas School of Law and assistant director of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at Sterling College. “We don’t conserve what we don’t value and we have a harder time valuing that which comes to us easily and on the cheap.”  

We don’t conserve what we don’t value and we have a harder time valuing that which comes to us easily and on the cheap.” -- Nicole Civita, professor and director of the Food Recovery Project

Unless there is a greater awareness generated about how detrimental food waste is for the environment, it’s unlikely that consumers will feel “pressured” to avoid wasting food, according to the WRAP report.

The consequences are far-reaching.

When food is left to decompose in landfills, it produces methane ― an extremely potent greenhouse gas. On top of that, all of the resources that go into the wasted food ― including water, energy and fertilizer ― are also needlessly squandered.

In the U.S., where food prices are also on the decline, consumers and retailers are indiscriminately discarding edible food. 

Half of all produce grown in the U.S., for example, is thrown out because it’s bruised, misshapen, discolored or has some other non-threatening deformity, a report released last summer by the Guardian concluded. 

TomFreeze via Getty Images
Retailers are disinclined to sell fruits and vegetables that are misshapen, even if they're edible, since they're not visually appealing to customers. 

In the U.S., at least, a majority of consumers feel remorseful about wasting, but not remorseful enough to actually do something about it.

Of 500 Americans surveyed, 77 percent said they feel guilty about wasting food, according to a report published last summer in journal PLOS ONE.

However, nearly half said they don’t have the time to devise new systems to reduce the amount of food they waste.

The authors of the WRAP report expressed the pressing need to better inform consumers. They may be less likely to waste if they were better educated about sound storage practices and the foods and drinks that are most commonly discarded.

According to Civita, the onus is on both retailers and consumers to identify effective ways to scale back on excessive food waste.

“In the U.S., our food supply contains almost twice as many calories per person than that required by an average adult,” Civita told The Huffington Post. “So, it is possible for stores to stock more than they can sell in an attempt to fill the shelves and attract customers with the appearance of unlimited choice.  In times of relative economic prosperity, it is all too easy for people to buy more food than they need.”

More stories like this:

  • No. 10: Nigeria
    PIUS UTOMI EKPEI via Getty Images
    Nigeria wastes $750 billion in food a year, according to Agronigeria, an agricultural news source. Oftentimes, a lack of proper refrigeration during transport is to blame. A startup called ColdHubs aims to address that issue by providing solar-powered cold rooms for farms and outdoor markets.
  • No. 9: Italy
    Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
    In August, Italy passed a law that encourages supermarkets and farmers to donate unsold food to people in need. The country is also urging customers to take home leftovers from restaurants. 
  • No. 8: United Kingdom
    Luke MacGregor / Reuters
    After launching a "Love Food, Hate Waste" campaign, the U.K. succeeded in reducing consumer food waste by 21 percent in five years.
  • No. 7: Japan
    Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Japan is known for its impeccable food presentation, and also for the way it indiscriminately discards goods whose appearances aren't up to par. Japan wastes about 18 million tons of a food a year, but a new group called Mottainai Action is addressing this issue by rescuing perfectly edible, but "ugly" foods, and making meals out of them for four diners in Tokyo.
  • No. 6: United States
    Bloomberg via Getty Images
    As much as 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. A major culprit is the fact that the food labeling system isn't regulated, and the dates don't indicate when, in fact, a product isn't safe for consumption. Lawmakers met in June to discuss adopting a uniform labeling system, which could, in turn, help curb food waste. Some individual states have taken up the issue on their own. Vermont will soon allow zero food waste to end up in landfills. In Massachusetts, hospitals, businesses and colleges can't waste food. Farms in Ohio donate surplus crops to people in need. And in California, businesses are obligated to recycle their organic waste.
  • No. 5: Canada
    Ben Nelms / Reuters
    Canada wastes $31 billion in food a year. A number of groups are diverting edible food from landfills and into the mouths of people who need it. Food Banks Canada, for example, partnered with retailers to rescue more than 14 million pounds of safe, quality food and donate it to food banks across the country.
  • No. 4: Ethiopia
    Barry Malone / Reuters
    In Ethiopia, like many other developing countries, food waste occurs because of a lack of efficient methods to transport and store food. Ethiopia has been recognized for its targeted efforts to improve its infrastructure, agricultural development and support for small farmers.
  • No. 3: South Africa
    Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
    The average person in South Africa wastes about 400 pounds of food per year. To cut down on that figure, retailers in South Africa have banded together to rescue edible food and donate it to people in need. Last year, FoodForward SA (formerly known as FoodBank SA) was able to feed 3,350 tons of rescued food to 170,000 people in need, according to Independent Online. 
  • No. 2: Australia
    Tim Wimborne / Reuters
    Australians throw out $8 billion in edible food a year. Two major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, are working to bring that figure down by donating surplus goods to food rescue organizations. 
  • No. 1: France
    MIGUEL MEDINA via Getty Images
    In France, supermarkets are now required by law to either donate or compost food that's nearing its expiration date.