Most conversations about food are in relation to overeating and expanding waistbands. But as much harm as we are doing to ourselves when we overeat, we are doing significantly more damage to the environment when we throw our food away. Learn about this serious issue and take action. The first step is to educate yourself and here Tempo shares the problem and a viable solution. #StopFoodWaste . Get involved. Act now!
The issue of people starving while others are tossing away happy meals is nothing new. If someone asked you, “why shouldn’t we waste food?” you may instinctively respond “it’s wrong for us to throw away food when there are others who are starving”. According to Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal,
“There are nearly a billion malnourished people in the world, but all of them could be lifted out of hunger with less than a quarter of the food wasted in Europe and North America.”
Indeed, the fact that others are starving while many of us are wasting fresh fruits and vegetables is nothing short of criminal, but it’s only one part of a worldwide environmental and economic food crisis.
Every time you throw away an apple, you may as well flush away 4.5 buckets of water, according to Averda Waste Management, because that’s how much water was used to grow the apple.
In a region that is plagued with water scarcity, these habits are entirely unsustainable. In general, food waste is extremely harmful to the environment. A 2013 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that
a third of all food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. To put that in perspective, that is approximately 1.4 billion hectares of land
– or 28 percent of the world’s agricultural land basically being used to produce organic waste! The amount of total water wasted is the same as the annual discharge of the Volga River, the longest river in Europe.
The report went on to say that “ the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated to be 3.3 Gtonnes of CO2 equivalent; as such, food wastage ranks as the third top emitter after USA and China”. So when we waste our food, not only is it a missed opportunity to help others, but we are also degrading the very environment that allowed us to cultivate the food in the first place.
If the moral and environmental reasons weren’t good enough for you, then perhaps some economic evidence might grab your attention. Based on UN data, in the UAE, 3.27 million tonnes of food is wasted every year, which amounts to a staggering AED 13 billion, estimates Massar Solutions- a supply chain distribution company.
More than half a million AED of that loss could be conserved just by ensuring that better logistics were put in place when transferring food from place to place. This is money that could be put to better use in education, health, and other key governmental services.
In the UAE we may love our food, but we also love our money, and that is exactly where food wastage is hitting us.
According to a 2015 study performed by Bee’ah, an integrated environment and waste management company headquartered in the Emirate of Sharjah, half of all household waste in the UAE is food. Much of this is due to the fact that when it comes to proper hospitality, a good meal is the main component. So you are going to have a lot of food, and as a consequence, a lot of waste. In fact, you will find the greatest amount of food waste present during times of joy and merriment.
According to the Dubai municipality, during Ramadan the amount of total food waste jumps up from 38% to 55%. Director-General of Dubai Municipality Hussain Nasser Lootah singled out Ramadan tents, Iftar distribution centers and wedding events when discussing the critical issue of managing food waste.
Overconsumption and a wasteful mindset can have repercussions all over the world.
When you toss away your food, you’re not just throwing away scraps, you’re also impacting the world on an environmental and economic level.
Because we are not able to visualize the immediate impact of our actions, we are too comfortable with bad habits. This makes it increasingly more critical that we educate people around us and create methods by which we can lower excess food waste.
Do not despair! Despite the harmful social, economical, and environmental consequences of food wastage, there are a number of easy solutions that can help reduce wastage.
First, it’s important to understand how food wastage occurs. Clearly, not all food is wasted at home. From the moment that the food is harvested and sent on its course to our refrigerators, food loss begins. So the starting point is the food supply chain, and since the UAE is the 15th largest importer of food in the world according to the World Trade Organization (WTO), we need to look at the world as a whole in order tackle this problem.
According to the FAO, one of the major fronts for reducing food wastage is developing better food harvest, storage, processing, transport and retailing processes.
Factors that contribute to food loss during harvest are due to harvesting at bad times, poor conditions, or using ineffective methods and technology.
Also, in hot climates, one of the key issues is storage and cooling, which if not executed well can diminish food quality or make it entirely unsafe to eat.
Investment in better technology and educating farmers on best practice methods will also help in staving off food loss.
Many simple and small investments like improved rice-storage bags in the Phillippines have helped cut losses of the grain by 15%. Also, the use of solar dryers in South Africa have helped to extend the shelf life of fruits and certain vegetables, thus reducing post-harvest losses.
During the retailing process, about 20-40% of fresh organic foods are disposed of simply because they do not meet cosmetic standards.
This is a self-perpetuating issue, because as people are less exposed to “weirdly” shaped fruit/vegetables they develop very narrow standards of what a purportedly healthy fruit/vegetable looks like.
As someone who has grown my own fruits and vegetables, I’ve come to realize that the shape of a fruit has little correlation with whether or not it’s suitable for consumption,
thus it’s imperative that we break out of the custom of only eating “pretty” fruit and end needless waste. By re-evaluating common methods of harvesting, storage, and fruit selection, already we can begin to combat excess food wastage.
Communication in the food supply chain also serves a great value. This can be on a macro-scale with suppliers communicating with retailers, or on a micro-scale with parents speaking to their children.
For instance, just like a mother may ensure that all her kids are attending a dinner before preparing a large meal, a supermarket downsizing its products may inform farmers beforehand, thus giving the farmers an opportunity to find other markets to sell their product.
Bridging small communication gaps such as this will facilitate supplier’s ability to minimize losses and allow for the maximum number of markets to stock their shelves.
On the home front, there’s a lot more work to be done. In the UAE, the average amount of food wasted per person is roughly 350 kilograms. According to the FOA we can reduce the amount of waster per household by 150 kg via composting through local collection authorities.
In fact, in Abu Dhabi we have a compost plant, which in 2011 created 30,000 tonnes of compost for farmers, from 100,000 tonnes of green waste.
Dubai’s Al Qasr hotel has managed to expedite the composting method by using a special Japanese method called Bokashi, which uses a special type of bacteria that breaks down fruit and vegetable scraps at a faster rate.
Composting is a huge benefit because it limits the amount of food that goes into landfills, because rotten food is a large producer of methane, which is a particularly harmful greenhouse gas.
In order to minimize the impact of increased food waste during Ramadan feasting, the Dubai municipality has been coordinating with the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities, along with other charity groups to collect left over food from large hotel and functions, and then distribute them to those who are in need. The program started in 2008 and is called Hifz Al- Ni’am. Since its beginning, the program has succeeded in benefitting thousands of people.
Food conservation is a moral, economic, and an environmental issue. As easy as it is to throw away old food, or over-prepare and toss away the scraps, it’s critical that we take measures to reduce wastage.
For many of us, we are simple consumers, and all we need to do is put a little extra thought into our eating habits and prepare/buy our meals accordingly. At the end of the day, if we don’t start with making changes at home, then we are never going to have the motivation and spirit to convince an entire nation to practice better habits.
by Jaffar Mahmoud