According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food wastage is described as the discarding or alternative (non-food) use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption. Food is wasted in many ways:
- Fresh produce that deviates from what is considered optimal in terms of shape, size and colour, for example is often removed from the supply chain during sorting operations
- Foods that are close to, at or beyond the “best-before” date are often discarded by retailers and consumers.
- Large quantities of wholesome edible food are often unused or left over and discarded from household kitchens and eating establishments
Between 33-50% of all food produced globally is never eaten, and the value of this wasted food is worth over $ 1 trillion. To put that into perspective, in the USA food waste represents 1.3% of the GDP. Food waste is a massive market inefficiency, the kind of which does not persist in other industries.
it is estimated that 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. That is 1 in 9 people on the planet who are starving or malnourished. Each and every one of them could be sufficiently fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the USA, UK and Europe each year.
Because we have a globalised food supply system, demand for food in the West can drive up the price of food grown for export in developing countries, as well as displace the growth of crops to feed native populations and drive accelerated degradation of natural habitats. Hunger is not just a problem that’s happening ‘somewhere else’- in the UK for example, over 1 million people accessed a food bank last year, whilst in the USA 40 million Americans live in food poverty.
Food waste is really, really bad for the environment. It takes a land mass larger than China to grow the food each year that is ultimately never eaten- land that has been deforested, species that have been driven to extinction, indigenous populations that have been moved, soil that has been degraded- all to produce food that we then just thrown away. In addition, food that is never eaten accounts for 25% of all freshwater consumption globally.
Not only are all of the resources that went into creating the uneaten food wasted (land, water, labour, energy, manufacturing, packaging, etc.), but when food waste goes to landfill, which is where the vast majority of it ends up, it decomposes without access to oxygen and creates methane, which is 23x more deadly than carbon dioxide.
Every way you look at it, food waste is a major culprit in destroying our planet, and in fact if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.
Some Surprising Culprits
It’s easy for many people to dismiss food waste as someone else’s problem (“I don’t waste any food”) or to focus solely on the more visibly shocking examples of waste (unharvested fields of produce ploughed back into the earth, supermarket skip waste).
However, the reality is that in the ‘developed’ world, more than 50% of food waste takes place in our homes. In contrast, less than 2% of food waste takes place at the retail store level (though supermarket practices are directly responsible for much food waste elsewhere in the supply chain.)
In the UK the average family throws away 22% of their weekly shop, which is worth 700 sterling pounds per year. In the US, the per-family equivalent is worth a staggering $ 2,275 each year!
So, the bad news is we are half the problem. But the good news is that we can be half the solution! I will share with you some tips on how we can reduce food wastage.
Most people tend to buy more food than they need. I think especially when items are on sale we sometimes are guilty of this.
Though buying in bulk may be convenient, research has shown that this shopping method leads to more food waste.
To avoid buying more food than you need, make frequent trips to the grocery store every couple of days rather than a bulk shopping trip once a week or every two weeks.
Make a point to use up all the food you purchase before your next trip to the market to buy more groceries.
Additionally, try making a list of the items that you need to buy and stick to that list. This will help you reduce impulse buying and reduce food waste as well.
Store Food Correctly
Improper storage leads to a massive amount of food waste.
According to the Natural Resource Defence Council, about two-thirds of household waste in the United Kingdom is due to food spoilage.
Many people are unsure how to store fruits and vegetables, which can lead to premature ripening and eventually, rotten produce. For instance, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and onions should never be refrigerated. These items should be kept at room temperature.
Separating foods that produce more ethylene gas from those that don’t is another great way to reduce food spoilage. Ethylene promotes ripening in foods and could lead to spoilage.
Foods that produce ethylene gas while ripening include:
- Green Onions
Keep these foods away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries and peppers to avoid premature spoilage.
Keep Your Fridge Clutter-Free
You’ve probably heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” This rings especially true when it comes to food. While having a well-stocked fridge can be a good thing, an overly filled fridge can be bad when it comes to food waste.
Help avoid food spoilage by keeping your fridge organized so you can clearly see foods and know when they were purchased. A good way to stock your fridge is by using the FIFO method, which stands for “first in, first out.”
Understand Expiration Dates
“Sell by” and “expires on” are just two of the many confusing terms companies use on food labels to let consumers know when a product will most likely go bad.
The problem is, the US government doesn’t regulate these terms. In fact, the task is often left to food producers to determine the date they think a product is most likely to spoil by. The truth is, most food that has just passed its expiration date is still safe to eat.
“Sell by” is used to inform retailers when the product should be sold or removed from the shelves. “Best by” is a suggested date that consumers should use their products by. Neither of these terms means that the product is unsafe to eat after the given date. While many of these labels are ambiguous, “use by” is the best one to follow. This term means that the food may not be at its best quality past the listed date.