Do you consider yourself a conscious consumer? Do you try to conserve water when possible, turn out the lights when not in use, drive to maximize your fuel efficiency and avoid making choices that are wasteful? Do you take pride in having a responsible organization or business, or fancy yourself a progressive city planner or inhabitant of a progressive city? If so, you might be surprised to learn that you may inadvertently be contributing to a global waste epidemic in which nearly half of all the food you buy or serve is thrown out before being used; food too good to waste. But don’t despair, you are not alone and small actions have a big impact. Just THINK about it!
Australians throw out more than 4 million tonnes of food every year, close to a thousand kilograms per household. The US produces 180 billion kg of food annually and around 50 billion kg of this gets thrown away. 50 per cent more food is wasted than in the 1970’s. In the EU up to 25 per cent of food gets wasted along the food supply chain each year.
The FAO estimates that a third of global food production is lost or wasted; that’s 1.3 billion tonnes each year. The amount of food wasted by consumers in industrialized countries is almost equal to the net amount produced in the whole of the sub-Saharan Africa.
Overall, on a per-capita basis, much more food is wasted in the industrialized world than in developing countries. An FAO report estimates that the per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year, while this figure in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6-11 kg/year.
The causes of food losses in low-income countries are mainly connected to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems.
Given that many smallholder farmers in developing countries live on the margins of food insecurity, a reduction in food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods.
The food supply chains in developing countries need to be strengthened by, among other things, encouraging small farmers to organize and to diversify and upscale their production and marketing. Investments in infrastructure, transportation, food processing and packaging are also required. Both the public and private sectors have a role to play in achieving this.
The causes of food waste in medium/high-income countries mainly relate to consumer behavior and retail practices, as well as to a lack of coordination between different actors in the supply chain. Farmer-buyer sales agreements may contribute to quantities of farm crops being wasted.
Food can be wasted due to quality standards, which reject food items not perfect in shape or appearance. At the consumer level, insufficient purchase planning and expiring ‘best-before-dates’ or ‘use-by dates’ also cause large amounts of waste, in combination with the careless attitude of those consumers who can afford to waste food.
Food waste in industrialized countries can be reduced by raising awareness among food industries, retailers and consumers. There is a need to find good and beneficial use for safe food that is presently discarded.
Meanwhile one in every seven people going to bed hungry and more than 20,000 people dying of hunger every day.
Apart from the humanitarian issue, food waste, simply stated, means a waste of natural resources. From the soil, water, farm inputs, to fossil fuels – all the resources that had gone into the food production also get squandered.
Food waste decomposition in landfills also significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, making it an important aspect of climate change. In the US, organic matter in landfills accounts for 25% of carbon emissions!
The issue thus concerns everyone and cuts across stakeholders and sectors – from producers to consumers – and also across government levels.