You’d assume that more individuals would be shocked into action after learning that every year a third of the food supply around the world never makes it to the dinner table. It rots in the fields, while being transported or after arriving at market shelves. And even it does make it home, it still stands a high risk of going unnoticed in the refrigerator and exceeding its expiration date.
In developed nations where food is cheap and plentiful, the reality of food waste is a tough topic to drive home. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, however, United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes purchased. This means that approximately 32% of all food purchased per year is not eaten. The implications extend far beyond financial expenditures – food waste has massive health and environmental consequences as well.
The cost of growing and disposing of food never used is estimated at $1 trillion dollars globally. Other costs include $172 billion of water, over $400 billion from increased greenhouse gas emissions and $150 billion of additional healthcare costs due to pesticide exposure.
About 800 million people go to bed hungry every night in the world despite a food surplus that could feed 2.5 billion more. Hunger leads to sickness, deaths and political instability. These food waste side effects are especially tragic considering that the resources expended producing that surplus could be redirected toward technology improvements to improve the “cold chain” of food supply in developing countries.
Food production is not a carbon-neutral proposition. The burning of fossil fuels by farm machinery, trucks, and fertilizer plants accelerates climate change, and food waste’s contribution is significant, since rotting food produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to Enmax, in total, an excess of 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases arise from food waste annually. Additionally, as the frequency and severity of droughts increase, both freshwater and arable land become increasingly scarce commodities. Food production utilizes a large percentage of our valuable water resources, and as it goes from farm to store to landfill, it continues to squander precious freshwater.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, each of us can make an enormous impact on reducing food waste:
- Shop your refrigerator first. Smartphone and online apps help you prepare meals from what you have on hand. These help you trim your grocery purchases as well.
- Prepare and serve smaller portions. This is also a good way to mind the calories.
- Use sell-by or expiration dates as guidelines, not deadlines. Food a few days past these dates is not necessarily spoiled.
- Donate excess food to food banks. This reduces landfill waste and helps those who are hungry.
- Learn how to can or otherwise preserve excess food so it does not end up in the garbage.
- Perhaps most importantly, become aware of how much food you do waste. Keep track of anything you throw out. This step motivates you automatically to throw away less.
- More ways to reduce food waste can be found here.
Other solutions to food waste are focused on improving access to refrigeration, creating more efficient transportation networks, regulating how much waste food from restaurants and individuals can be added to landfills and getting more food to hungry people.
Despite the stunning statistics concerning food waste, improving an awareness of the problem is one of the biggest barriers that stands in the way to solving it. When people truly understand the profound monetary and human costs associated with allowing perfectly good food to become trash, they will be more mindful of the ways in which it can be prevented. Hopefully, working together, we can all come up with effective solutions to reduce food waste and help restore the planet.
Beth Kelly © 2015