Waist Stream

Americans have been overstuffing themselves for decades, but little did I suspect that the fat epidemic was spreading from our waistline to our waste stream.

After studying food discards from several hundred families in the Tucson, Ariz., area, University of Arizona researchers have concluded that we are leaving more than a few crumbs in our laps, as we eat our way into the record books. In fact, they estimate that Americans annually generate 474 pounds of food waste per person, which is about three times what they previously thought.

Taking a good look at most of us — including me — we're doing our patriotic best to keep food waste out of landfills. So if it's not the supersized American, who's to blame? My first guess is skinny people, followed by the loathsome normal-weight people, because there are still more of them than the rest of us.

It should be obvious, especially for mothers, what the researchers named as the main culprit: vegetables. (I knew they were bad the first time I laid lips on them.) Actually, perishables, including fruits and vegetables, were a particularly healthy part of the waste generated in Tucson homes. And when the university expands its focus next year to study the waste generated as food is being grown and processed, don't expect that part of the equation to change, except possibly to enlarge.

The surprising growth in food waste may be overshadowed, however, by another burgeoning group of discards making a similar journey to the dump: computer electronics.

But our problem isn't food or computers — it's our appetites for them.

While extensive marketing has fed our perceived needs for these necessities, higher productivity and lower cost have led to expanding waistlines and waste streams. We have created a system that manufactures new computers cheaper than fixing the old ones, and offers abundant access to fast and cheaply prepared foods. This has contributed to our excess weight at home and in the landfill — bite by byte.

The author is the editorial director of Waste Age