Intentionally wasting food due to lack of planning your meal portions or storing food until well after expiry leads to food wastage. Other reasons for food wastage could be the oversupply in markets or retailers rejecting foods that do not conform to the quality standards required. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations were the first to study and analyze the impact of food wastage on the environment on a global scale. According to their report findings, one-third of all the food produced around the world for human consumption does not reach us, let alone make it to our dinner table.
Wastage occurs in two stages with 50 percent occurring at the production and storage phase, otherwise known as “upstream” phase while the remaining 50 percent occurs at the processing, distribution and consumption phase or “downstream” phase.
Through the report, analysts were able to find patterns with regards to food wastage at a global level. The regions with middle and high income had greater food loss in the consumption or downstream phase compared to regions with low-income that showed greater loss in the upstream or production phase.
IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Wastes that are not disposed in the right way end up getting piled in landfills, producing Methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than CO2. Greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2 absorb the UV rays and heat up the Earth’s atmosphere causing global warming.
We fail to realize that wasting food means wasting water resources. This should not come as a surprise since 70 percent of the water throughout the world serves agricultural purposes, namely, irrigation. The scenarios below will give a better understanding of this.
Water, roughly three times the volume of Lake Geneva, produces food that is left uneaten. Tossed away one kilogram of beef? You just happened to waste 50,000 liters of water used to produce that beef. Still not convinced? You know when you force kids to have their milk, just to see them pour it down the drain in your absence? Well, your child just poured 1000 liters of water down that same drain.
From a statistical point of view, 3.5 billion acres of land allocated for agricultural purposes grow food that ends up getting wasted. The process of converting wild areas into agricultural lands and using tons of water to irrigate the same causes disruption to biodiversity as the produced food end up in landfills. This, unfortunately, is an ongoing cycle.
HOW TO TACKLE FOOD WASTAGE
Environmental impact is one, but there is something called humanity and morale. How can we waste tons of food when there are millions of people around the world who go hungry every day?
Planning your meal portions is a step to tackle the problem. But it’s not the answer. To ensure the proper use of resources and minimal to no food wastage, it would require attention from the first stage until the very end. This essentially means, from the production and processing stage to the distribution and consumption stage. The following steps, if undertaken, can help tackle food wastage:
Firstly, one needs to strike a balance between production and demand. This essentially means using less natural resources to produce food that’s not consumed.
Secondly, attention to detail in processes such as harvesting, processing, storage and distribution is essential. Redistributing surplus food to people and areas that face a shortage combats the surplus generation.
Paying close attention to when and where food wastage occurs is a great start for consumers, retailers and restaurants towards an environment friendly approach.
We often throw away fruits and vegetables based on its appearance. What appears “rotten” to human eyes may essentially just be an overripe fruit or vegetable. Instead of tossing it into the trash, try using them for recipes that require overripe ingredients such as soups and smoothies.
As consumers, building a meal plan and sticking to it will make sure there are no unnecessary purchases and hence, wastage of food. Retailers, often, talk consumers into buying produces in bulk with the notion, “Bulk purchase = Cheap purchase”. Wrong. Purchasing in bulk means more food that stays past the expiry date and ultimately, end up in the trash. Waste of food and waste of money.
A little effort along with conscious decisions can correct the negative impact our actions have caused to the environment.