Why is it so important that we stopped wasting food? Perhaps knowing that it would be a good idea to prevent food loss isn’t powerful enough to inspire behaviour altering. But when faced with the data, the argument suddenly becomes more motivating.
Stats show that one-third of all food produced is thrown away before even being served. While all this food gets wasted, there are almost 690 million people hungry right now around the world. This number has increased by 60 million in the last five years. According to the UN, the amount of wasted food per year could feed all the hungry people in the world four times over.
However, food waste doesn’t only cause ethical issues. It is also a significant player in climate change. Between 2010 and 2016, food waste was responsible for nearly 10% of the emissions that led to climate change. When the food rots on the landfill, it produces a potent greenhouse gas, which is 25 times more efficient in trapping heat than CO2. This, alongside the pollution generated by the machinery and fuels involved in food processing, led to approximately 3.3.billion tonnes of CO2 emission per year.
Another way in which food waste damages our planet is through water use. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 70% of the Earth’s freshwater is used for crop irrigation and livestock. The production of a single apple needs 125 litres of water. Every year, food waste causes 250 km³ (2.5 trillion hectoliters) of water to go down the drain.
Such large quantities of food require the use of a massive amount of land. Yet, with 28% of the farming area unused, all this land is misused and degraded. In some cases, for agrarian purposes, entire forests are cleared. This leads to further disastrous consequences on climate change and wildlife.
What can cities do to reduce food waste?
One successful strategy is to promote community gardens. Many neighborhood gardens sit on what were once empty lots. When urban gardeners take over, they clear away the rubble and substitute it with rich greenery. Community farming turns urban uglinesses into vibrant green spaces, which improves the quality of life for everyone in the neighborhood – not just people who tend the garden. There’s even some evidence that having a community garden increases property values.
Another policy is to encourage restaurants to donate the food they can’t use anymore. In 2017, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that Restaurants are the largest (estimated) business sector generators of food waste in most cities studied.
Earlier this year, the NRDC launched its Food Waste Restaurant Challenge Guide. Participating restaurants can save money by reducing food waste; one study found that for every dollar invested in food waste reduction, half of the study’s restaurants saw a return of six dollars or more.
What can consumers do?
Of course, it is not only restaurants, food services, and consumers contributing to this massive wastage. Food is often lost in the supply chains and doesn’t even get to the supermarket shelves. Some common deeds are farmers overplanting to prepare for bad weather conditions, damaged goods on the supply chain, and discarding “non-perfect” looking fruits and veggies for retailers.
Despite these occurrences, consumers still account for the majority of the food waste. But here are some tips to combat this problem:
- Buy locally! – Local farms mean smaller supply chains, ergo less pollution. Also, by supporting the local farmers, you help grow your local economy.
- Eat less meat! – Raising livestock is one of the most polluting industries worldwide. Discarded meat products are among the most wasted types of food.
- Only buy what you need! – By planning your meals ahead, you’ll not only waste less food, but you’ll also spend less money.
- Join or start a community garden! – There’s nothing quite as satisfying as growing your fresh flowers and vegetables, especially if you spend most of your day sitting behind a desk.
- Buy the wonky fruits! – Just like you don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge a fruit by its appearance! They are more often than not just as delicious with the same nutritional values.
- Store food wisely! – If you bought too much food in one go, make sure you store some of it in the freezer!
- Eat your leftovers! – Aside from reducing waste, this will also save you time from cooking or money from ordering food.
- Donate food! – If you have the means, there are many ways today to help the less fortunate. Some apps and organisations allow you to donate as much or as little as possible to help the ones in need.
Despite all our technological and scientific advancements, we still seem to be confronted with some vast difficulties. Yet, by raising awareness and making small changes to our lifestyles, collectively, the human race can overcome any obstacle that may come our way.