What is food waste?
Food waste is food that is thrown away, lost or uneaten. The reasons for food waste are numerous, and occur at the various stages in the food supply chain from production, processing, retailing to consumption.
In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, while in developed countries much food – about 100 kilograms per person per year – is wasted at the consumption stage.
Food waste is not referring to rotten food but to good food that could still be used.
The world is faced with an interesting paradox. On the one hand there are around a billion hungry people who are malnourished and living in poverty. Approximately 90% of food relief agencies are unable to meet the demand. Three quarters of these agencies require at least 25% more food than they get. A further quarter require double the food they receive. While global hunger is reported to be declining, it is still unacceptably high.
On the other hand, rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) annually as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes). It is believed that the billion hungry people in the world could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food wasted in the Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States alone.
The UK, US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations. Up to half the entire food supply is wasted between the farm and the fork. If crops wastefully fed to livestock are included, European countries have more than three times more food than they need, while the US has around four times more food than is needed. Up to three-quarters of the nutritional value is lost before it reaches people’s mouths.
Saving a third of the world’s entire food supply, through reducing waste, would result in there still be enough surplus for countries to provide their populations with 130% of their nutritional requirements.
In a world where poverty is so rife, wasting so much food is arguable immoral and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Why is food being wasted?
There are various reasons for why food is being wasted. The two main reasons why good food is thrown away is that people cook too much or they don’t use the food it in time. Many people don’t know how to use leftovers. They end up buying takeaways at the last minute instead of cooking what they have at home. People don’t check what they have in their cupboards before going shopping and then buy too much because they don’t stick to a shopping list. Shopping when hungry also leads to buying more food than is needed.
How much are we throwing out?
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted. 4600 kilocalories per day of food is harvested for every person on the planet. Of these harvested, only around 2000 kilocalories on average are eaten. The rest is lost on the
Around 20% of all the food bought is wasted. That amounts to 1 in 5 bags of groceries bought is thrown away. Most of the food waste is avoidable and could have been eaten had it been better managed. Up to 40% of the content in household bins is food
It’s estimated that 30 – 50% of food is waste globally. The positive side to this is that although this statistic is high, there is a sign of improvement!
Who are the biggest wasters of food?
The biggest residential wasters of food include young consumers (between the ages of 18-24 years); families with children; and high income households.
How much money is spent on food that is thrown away?
Approximately 8 to 10 billion dollars of food is wasted each year in commercial and residential waste. That’s around four million tonnes of food that ends up as landfill.
If one out of every five shopping bags are thrown away, that equates to every household throwing out approximately $1,000 worth of groceries each year. The average family in the developed world is wasting nearly $83 a month by throwing away almost an entire meal a day.
The money that is wasted on food waste could have been better spent on feeding a family for a month or paying for electricity for 6 months!
What is the breakdown of food that is thrown away?
According to Tristram Stuart, real food waste is happening up the food supply chain. A tenth of food is lost before it leaves the farm. 30% of good food is fed to livestock and two thirds of that food is lost to animal waste products. 30% of food is thrown away in dustbins. Only the remaining 30% of the food is left to be eaten.
Over half the food waste is estimated to occur within the food industry. 41% of food waste comes from consumers, 8% from retailers, 21% from food manufacturers, 15% from restaurants, and 15% from other groups.
Of the food thrown away, 33% is fresh food; 27% is leftovers; 15% is packaged and longlife goods; 9% is drinks; 9% is frozen foods and 7% is takeaways.
Fruit and Vegetable Waste Facts
An estimated 20 – 40 % of fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops. Mostly because they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards.
From 2012-13 the relaxation of cosmetic standards saved 300,000 tonnes of produce from being wasted on UK farms. BBC 2012
Furthermore, the launch of Feeding the 5000’s campaign on vegetables that would have been wasted in the past due to cosmetic standards have become the fastest growing sector of the fresh produce market.
Fish Waste Facts
2.3 million tonnes of fish is discarded in the North Atlantic and the North Sea each year. 40 – 60 % of all fish caught in Europe is thrown away; either because they are the wrong size, species, or because of the poorly governed European quota system.
Meat and Dairy Waste Facts
At least 20 times more carbon dioxide can be saved by feeding food waste to pigs rather than sending it for anaerobic digestion. But under European laws feeding much food waste to pigs is banned. In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, by contrast, it is mandatory to feed some food waste to pigs.
8.3 million hectares of land is required to produce the meat and dairy that is wasted in homes,shops and restaurants in both the UK and US. That is seven times the amount of Amazon rainforest destroyed in Brazil in one year, largely for cattle grazing and soy production to export for livestock feed.
Grain Waste Facts
The bread and other cereal products thrown away in UK households alone has been enough to lift 30 million of the world’s hungry people out of malnourishment.
The amount of food wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop.
What are the environmental impacts and other hidden impacts?
The impact of food waste is not just financial. Environmentally, food waste leads to wasteful use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides; more fuel used for transportation; and more rotting food, creating more methane – one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change. Methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The vast amount of food going to landfills makes a significant contribution to global warming.
10% of rich countries greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten.
If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.
The irrigation water used globally to grow food that is wasted would be enough for the domestic needs (at 200 litres per person per day) of 9 billion people – the number expected on the planet by 2050.
If 25% of the world’s food supplies are being unnecessarily wasted, this represents a loss of water withdrawn by farmers from rivers, lakes and wells (irrigation water only, not rain) amounting to approximately 675 litres, or easily enough for the household needs of 9 billion people using 200 litres a day.
What can we do?
As mentioned above, developing countries food waste occurs mainly at the early stages of the food value chain. This can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities. Therefore, a strengthening of the supply chain could help to reduce the amount of food waste. Focus should be on supporting farmers, investing in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food and packaging industry.
In medium- and high-income countries, food is wasted mainly at later stages in the supply chain. The behavior of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries. Raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for saved food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.
One way of dealing with food waste is to reduce its creation. Consumers can reduce spoilage by planning their food shopping, avoiding potentially wasteful spontaneous purchases, and storing foods properly.
As alternatives to landfill, food waste can be composted to produce soil and fertilizer, fed to animals, or used to produce energy or fuel.
If we planted trees on land currently used to grow unnecessary surplus and wasted food, this would offset a theoretical maximum of 100% of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
At present there is no obligation on the grocery sector or wider food industry to report on the amount of food waste that is generated. Courtauld Commitment 3 is a voluntary pledge for food businesses that calls for a reduction in traditional grocery ingredients, product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain by 3% by 2015, from a 2012 baseline.
There needs to be a radical change in people’s perspectives where it is once more socially unacceptable to waste food!