There is a huge problem in this new age and it’s called food waste. The simple definition is food that is not eaten and lost. It occurs throughout the food system, during production, processing, distribution, retail, and consumption, on every step of the ladder from supplier to consumer, is a constant battle to prevent waste.
We, humans, have an obsession with cosmetic standards, and the possibility and convenience to cancel an order on a bistro or bar make us consumers play an enormous role in dictating how much waste we create and what actually happens.
To comprehend how much we are to blame for the amount of food we actually discard each month, it’s extremely important to take a look at the sheer scale of the problem, why is this happening, and what solutions we can create and use to help solve or at least ease the current situation.
By rule of thumb around 30 percent of all food produced worldwide is going to waste each year, and this is having a massive negative effect on both the planet and its people.
As an example, if we compare the greenhouse gas emissions from the top-emitting countries, after the U.S.A. and China, food waste is the third-largest emitter in the world.
This is largely due to the scale and mass production of crops, we humans use around 4 billion hectares around the world to grow food. But what makes this so horrendous is that 1.5 billion of those hectares of that land produce all the food that is wasted.
This ‘wasted’ land uses over 250 Trillion cubic tonnes of water to grow the food that later on is destined for landfill. A trillion is one with twelve zeros.
This is equivalent to four times the total consumption of continental Europe for a whole year. And there is just a part of the resources used and wasted to grow our food.
At the bottom of the ladder of the ‘wasted’ food chain, you’ll always find the consumer.
Every year, each household throws away 100 Kilograms of perfectly edible food. This number represents the worth of a whole month’s consumption of an average European family.
This is largely due to oversized portions served at home, and restaurants catering for an absurdly large menu throughout the year.
The food production chain ‘leaks’ at every level. When moving the food in the process transit wastes around 19kg of food per person, per year.
This is due to perishable foods not being delivered on time, but also because of last-minute cancellations made by the consumer.
Furthermore, convenience-driven factories are also a large part of the problem, as many parts of the ingredients used are unsellable.
For example, the first and last slices of bread are discarded as they cannot be used in sandwich production, and therefore they head directly to the landfill.
There are no systems in place to reuse this food in any way, either donations to food charities or even just a composting system that allows the food to be churned back into the ground.
34kgs of food per person is wasted in this way, and another 30kgs per person is lost due to order cancellations, and food not being kept securely or in the line of cold.
Here comes the ‘big guy’ to play. At the top of our ‘wasted’ food chain sits the farms that supply
major chain food stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and catering services.
An unbelievable 100kgs of food is wasted per person due to unrealistic cosmetic standards of supermarkets, which they claim are imposed by consumers.
Fruits and vegetables that look too ugly, wonky, small, spotty, or too large are wasted regardless of their nutritional value, and they are left to rot.
Not only do farmers have to contend with high consumer standards, but also supermarkets canceling or changing orders to suit their consumer needs.
Shelves must be full at all times, leading to a surplus food that, again, is left to rot.
So here we have again a problem in the system that forces farmers to overproduce to ensure they have enough food that meets the cosmetic standards and last-minute orders required by supermarkets. The rest goes to waste.
What are the Solutions?
Now we know the problem with food waste, we can discuss some solutions that might help to ease the situation from a consumer standpoint and turn to alter the demand on every link of the supply chain.
- Let’s start at home. – There are several ways to ensure that the food you buy doesn’t end up in your trash because we forgot to eat it all by the end of the week.
So first we make a list of everything we need and plan to eat for that week. Organization and preparation are everything.
- Ensure that if we have something leftovers store in the fridge or freezer, we’ll try to go back for seconds rather than loading up your plate with the food we might not finish.
- Think before you throw. There are loads of things we can do with sad-looking vegetables, like making soups, or simply keeping scraps to make homemade veggie stock.
- Keep the food we waste so we can better understand what we are actually wasting, which will help you plan better in the future.
Supermarkets dictate their behavior based on what they think our consumer needs may be, so next time try to pick single bananas, ugly, or not-so-good-looking vegetables that taste exactly the same as the good-looking ones.
Finally, we can encourage our local businesses and distributors to donate their surplus food to charities or simply to give away unwanted food to those less fortunate than ourselves.
There is a lot of work to do to ensure that 30 percent of the food that we are currently wasting does not go to landfills. By making all these small changes, and getting organized and engaged in our local community, we can fight the war on waste.