(CN) – A United Nations organization estimated in 2005 that a third of all food went to waste. But a new study finds that number to be much higher.
In a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists from Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands said the previous estimate of food waste is too low because it only accounted for food lost in the supply chain and not food that had been thrown away once purchased.
Food waste is considered an environmental issue, as resources like land and water end up being wasted on food that will never be consumed.
Researchers used data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Health Organization to determine the relationship between food waste and consumer affluence.
The scientists discovered that when consumer affluence reached a spending threshold of about $6.70 per capita per day, food waste began to dramatically increase. Put simply, a lot of food is being bought by households and then eventually thrown out uneaten.
In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated about 214 calories of food per day were wasted. In the new model released Wednesday, scientists suggest that number should be 527 calories instead.
“Novel research using energy requirement and consumer affluence data shows that consumers waste more than twice as much food as is commonly believed,” said study author Monika van den Bos Verma.
The researchers suggest the new data can help guide policymakers in creating laws and regulations that can cut back on food waste. They recommend a focus on reducing waste in high-income countries and preventing an increase of food waste in developing countries with rising middle classes.
“It provides a new globally comparable base against which one can measure progress on the international food waste target, and suggests a threshold level of consumer affluence around which to launch intervention policies to prevent food waste from becoming a big problem,” the study states.