Our routine practices, unfortunately, make it difficult for us to conceptualize the magnitude of global food waste.
Everyday we hear appeals and yet there are one billion starving people in the world.
40% of all the food produced in the United States is never eaten.
In Europe, we throw away 100 million tonnes of food every year.
These are shamefully shocking facts in their own right. In a world full of hunger, volatile food prices , and social unrest, these statistics are more than just shocking when half the world’s population goes to sleep each night malnourished they are obscene.
They are environmentally, morally and economically outrageous.
Add to this that fact that obesity is rapidly growing in the western world, particularly among children, while 6 million children in the developing world die annually from undernourishment and it is a damning indictment of capitalism – the dominant ideology and economic system that has governed much of the world for the last two centuries.
The rampage of globalisation has given monopoly buying power to a few massive western multinational enterprises, who trample all over the globe sourcing farm supplies from the lowest bidders of impoverished nations.
Prices of farm produce are squeezed to such an extent that it’s more profitable to leave ‘inadequate’ quality crops in the ground to rot or to throw away than to pay the price for its air transport, storage and quality packaging to bring to western supermarkets with discerning consumers.
Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach.
Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
But the problem is bigger than we think.
Here are some hard facts to swallow.
Wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition but also precious resources, including land, water and energy. As a global society therefore, tackling food waste will help contribute towards addressing a number of key resource issues:
About one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems.
Every year, consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons)
1.4 billion hectares of land – 28 percent of the world’s agricultural area – is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.
The direct economic consequences of food wastage (excluding fish and seafood) run to the tune of $750 billion annually.
The amount of food lost and wasted every year is equal to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crops (2.3 billion tons in 2009/10)
In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.
In the USA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.
The Food wastage’s carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year.
Much of it ends up in landfills, and represents a large part of municipal solid waste.
The water used to irrigate wasted crops would be enough for the daily needs of nine million people.
Wasted production contributes 10% to the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries.
One hectare of land can, for example, produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people per annum. The same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people.
The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted (250km3) is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva.
Over the past century, fresh water abstraction for human use has increased at more than double the rate of population growth. Currently about 3.8 trillion m3 of water is used by humans per annum. About 70% of this is consumed by the global agriculture sector,
Indeed, depending on how food is produced and the validity of forecasts for demographic trends, the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion m3 annually by mid-century. This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today.
Considerable tensions are likely to emerge, as the need for food competes with demands for ecosystem preservation and biomass production as a renewable energy source.
Agriculture is responsible for a majority of threats to at-risk plant and animal species.
A low percentage of all food wastage is composted:
What can be done about it?
Part of the problem is poor shopping habits, but the confusion many consumers have with “use by” and “best before” food labels is also a factor. “Use by” refers to food that becomes unsafe to eat after the date, while “best before” is less stringent and refers more to deteriorating quality.
Consumer households need to be informed and change the behavior which causes the current high levels of food waste. Instead of buying packets of vegetables buy loose veg.
Boycott Supermarkets that don’t accept imperfections and nicks. There’s nothing wrong with a deformed Veg. It’s fine to eat.
Support redistribution urban food programmes.
UK supermarket chain Waitrose is attacking food waste in all parts of its business. The upmarket grocery chain cuts prices in order to sell goods that are close to their “sell by” date, donates leftovers to charity and sends other food waste to bio-plants for electricity generation.
The idea is for Waitrose to earn “zero landfill” status.
Home composting can potentially divert up to 150 kg of food waste per household per year from local collection authorities.
Buy local produced food items not those produced, transformed and consumed in very different parts of the world.
Considering that food security is a major concern in large parts of the developing world. Conflicts around the world mean there is “donor fatigue.
Food crises don’t just affect the countries where people go hungry. It’s a global challenge. Recent data shows the number of hungry in the world has fallen but still stands at 842 million people.
World Food Programme WFP operations in and around Syria are costing around $31 million a week.
Hidden Hunger is a weapon of mass destruction.
Hidden hunger weakens the immune system, stunts physical and intellectual growth, and can lead to death. It wreaks economic havoc as well, locking countries into cycles of poor nutrition, lost productivity, poverty, and reduced economic growth.
Investing in nutrition is one of the smartest development investments we can make.