Saving money can help save others

With Australians squandering more than $5 billion in food, concentrating on the budget will make better use of the world's resources.

With Australians squandering more than $5 billion in food, concentrating on the budget will make better use of the world's resources.

REMEMBER when your parents told you that you needed to finish your dinner, eat your greens or not play with your food because "there are starving kids in Africa"?

Well, with the world's population set to hit 7 billion tomorrow, there are now twice as many starving kids in Africa and other Third World countries and we are still wasting just as much, if not more, food in the First World.

In fact, a quarter of the food the developed world wastes would be enough to feed the Third World. How's that for a sobering fact. Feel like eating your greens now, or are you still not sure how it relates to you?

Let's look at how fast the world's population is rising. Last week the United Nations released its State of World Population 2011 report, which estimates that by tomorrow there will be 7 billion people on the face of the planet. That's almost twice as many as were sharing Earth's scarce resources in 1959 and seven times the world's population in 1804. So in slightly more than 50 years we've gone from a global population of 4 billion to 7 billion.

The globe's resources haven't increased at the same rate. That suggests that at some time, possibly quite soon, we might reach breaking point if we don't work out smart ways to grow things or consume them in a sustainable way.

There is no better starting point than food. And if you still need a personal connection, let's look at the hip pocket.

Australia wastes more than $5.2 billion in food a year. That's rather a lot of money. The chart shows how much that works out per person and household for each state.

These amounts were calculated from a survey, carried out by The Australia Institute, of 1603 main grocery buyers in October 2009.

As any good researcher will tell you, answers often depend on how a question is worded.

For example, had the study sought individual estimates of how much people wasted on milk, yoghurt and cheese as opposed to asking for an estimate of the amount wasted on dairy products, the overall estimate might have been much larger. Feeling slightly guilty at their food waste, participants might have erred on the low side as well.

I'm no less likely to waste food than the next person but are we really being so thoughtless? If you take into account the amount of other resources used to create what we consume - 500 litres of water to produce a kilogram of potatoes, 140 litres of water to make a cup of coffee - it really makes you think.

Each household is wasting $616 a year. If you managed to put that much into a savings account annually, earning just 5 per cent for your entire grocery-buying life of more than 40 years, you'd have $82,469.93. If you salary-sacrificed that amount into your superannuation fund instead, tax on income earned would be cut to 15 per cent.

An extra 10 years of putting the same amount away would give you $142,470.

Fruit and vegetables are what we waste most - throwing out $1.1 billion worth of those a year - so start shopping smart when it comes to produce. Shop with a list and make a meal plan - and stick to it. Pizza tonight? Really? What about the leftover curry in the fridge? There really are kids in Africa who would jump at the chance to eat that.

Be creative with your use of vegetables. A juicer might seem to be a big outlay but if you can use it to juice any leftover fruit or vegetables, it will pay its way soon enough.

How much income we earn is also correlated to how much we waste, with those on $40,000 or less wasting the least - $518 a year - and those on $80,000 or more wasting $803 annually.

On any income level, the biggest and most successful motivator to reducing food waste is saving money. Those survey respondents motivated by the desire to save money wasted $100 less per household than those who weren't. So don't do it for a better Earth, do it for a better budget and you might just help those a little less fortunate by accident.

Follow this writer on Twitter @Money_PennyP

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