OSU Researches Study Where and When People “Clean Their Plates”

When people eat at home, there’s typically not much left on their plates – and that means there’s likely less going to landfills, according to new research from The Ohio State University.

The same people who on average left just 3 percent of their food on their plates when choosing their own meals left almost 40 percent behind when given a standard boxed-lunch type of meal. Plate waste at home was 3.5 percent higher when diners went for seconds (or thirds).

What we leave behind on our plates is the primary focus of efforts to reduce food waste, and this study shows that it’s potentially more important to concentrate on other conservation measures at home, including using up food before it spoils, said Brian Roe, the study’s lead author and a professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State.

Prior research typically has focused on “plate waste” in settings such as school cafeterias and buffets and has found much greater waste — from about 7 percent at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet to 18 percent waste of French fries at an all-you-can-eat university dining hall.

The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first of its kind to follow adult eaters through their normal day-to-day eating patterns, said Roe, who leads the Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative.