A Swedish study found that seven fruits and vegetables account for 50 percent of wasted produce.

banana food waste
Credit: Food Delight / EyeEm / Getty Images

One of the biggest issues with combatting food waste is that the problem can be tricky to wrap your head around. We see obvious examples like tossing the leftovers at a restaurant or letting a loaf of bread get moldy, but food is wasted at every step of the supply chain – all of which needs to be addressed. With this in mind, a new study from Sweden focused on just one area of food waste – grocery stores – and set out to see which items were most likely to go to waste. The results, though not necessarily surprising, are certainly eye-opening.

A mere seven fruits and vegetables represented about half of all produce that goes to waste in supermarkets, according to researchers at Karlstad University – at least based on the three large ICA supermarkets that the group observed. In compiling their list, the researchers looked at more than the simple weight of the waste, also calculating in the environmental impact as well as the financial losses to the stores.

“We used estimates reached by other researchers to calculate the climate impact,” Lisa Mattsson, one of study’s authors, said according to ScienceNordic. “We looked at the emissions that can be linked to various fruits all the way from production and to the product in the supermarkets.”

Based on all these factors, the seven worst offenders were bananas, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, sweet peppers, pears and grapes – with bananas being the worst of the bunch. However, Mattsson pointed out, “In defense of the banana, they also represent a big turnover.”

Overall, the researchers suggest that simply focusing on these seven products could significantly reduce waste – and importantly for retailers, could also improve a store’s bottom line. The study found that 85 percent of the waste costs were directly attributed to the price the store paid for the produce in the first place. Meanwhile, only 9 percent of the cost of food waste was due to labor. As a result, researchers suggest that spending more money to have employees pay closer attention to the produce section could actually increase earnings while simultaneously reducing waste – a novel idea compared to conventional thinking. “Fortunately, efforts to reduce waste are in the interests of the environment and the stores,” Mattsson added. “I am absolutely convinced it’s feasible to turn things around.”