April 21 (UPI) -- According to a new study, the average American throws $1,300 worth of food into the garbage every year. That's $50 more than the average American spends filling up their car over the course of 12 months.
The average American spends more on wasted food than clothing purchases, electricity bills and property taxes.
"Across America, people report that saving money is the most important motivator for reducing their food waste," Zach Conrad, an assistant professor of kinesiology and health sciences at the College of William and Mary, said in a news release. "So it can be particularly helpful for people to compare those potential savings with the money they spend on everyday household expenses -- that can really put food waste into perspective."
Conrad and his colleagues tallied the average cost of food waste after studying the dietary habits of 40,000 adults observed over a 16-year period. Researchers analyzed surveys on food waste and factored in variances in the cost of wasted food based on location and inflation.
The data, detailed this week in the Nutrition Journal, showed the average American throws away about a quarter their daily food budget. Researchers found meat and seafood are the most likely food items to end up in the garbage, followed by fruits and vegetables. Grains, sweets and dairy are less frequently wasted.
"Until now, we didn't have up-to-date information about the amount of money that people were spending every day on food that ends up being wasted," Conrad said. "We didn't know whether that waste was occurring at home or at restaurants. This study fills those gaps, and pinpoints specific foods that contribute most to that expense on a daily basis. That can help people reduce their waste and increase their budgets."
As the research suggests, food waste isn't just an economic and environmental problem. It's also a health problem. Fewer than 10 percent of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables, foods that are frequently wasted. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of Americans eat too many sweets and unhealthy snacks, the kinds of foods that are less frequently wasted.
Over-consumption of sugars and empty calories has been linked to a variety of health maladies, including diabetes and heart disease.
Food waste is also an environmental problem. Thousands of gallons of fertilizers and pesticides are sprayed onto crops each year to grow food that ends up in the trash. Excessive fertilizer runoff has been linked to the proliferation of toxic, oxygen-depleting algae blooms in oceans and lakes all over the world. Meanwhile, pesticide use has been blamed for the decline for a variety of important pollinating insect species.
"Food waste represents massive amounts of wasted money and needless environmental impact from wasted greenhouse gas emissions and energy," Conrad said. "At a time when we all need to reduce our environmental footprint and tighten our purse strings, reducing our food waste can help us accomplish both of those goals."