Photo: Behance © Domenico Liberti
The issue of food waste is a global phenomenon that affects every segment of the population, be it low, middle or high income families. Some of these individuals face harsher and more difficult truths about food, such as an extreme scarcity of secure access to food, while others face problems of over-consumption and generating excess waste. However, increasing amounts of food waste which could otherwise be quality food, are becoming a large problem. Both waste and food waste are enormous problems, both of which require immediate attention, to both, minimise environmental damage, and improve the livelihoods of millions of people that have no secure access to food.
The unequivocal food waste issue is an issue that is bigger than the individuals and conglomerates who produce it. Surely, the issue of food waste is rooted in the world’s inefficient and immense food system, which indeed, goes beyond your supermarkets, your refrigerator and your trashcan. The system begins at food production and ends at generating excess amounts of food waste and environmental contamination. Food waste is not only a waste of otherwise appropriate, healthy and consumable food, but it also affects the environments in which it is discarded. In many parts of the world, there are patterns of overconsumption while in others of clear underconsumption. This uneven and inefficient divide of the world’s food supply posits one of the numerous problems that we face: increasing amounts of food waste. Food production requires enormous amounts of land, water and energy to be produced, this in particular refers to meat production, which incidentally already in the first stage of the process creates tremendous amounts of waste and contamination. This initial contamination and waste refers to loss of land as a result of deforestation, water contamination due to the use of chemicals and fertilizers, the emission of GHGs from energy used, and many other forms of contamination. The second issue faced in food production becomes that much of this food which is produced, gets lost before even reaching its consumers, meaning that food waste is an issue both at the beginning and end of the said ‘food cycle’.
Many news and articles throw around numbers and facts which can over or under inflate the issue, confuse readers and make dramatic statements. This can oftentimes be unnecessary as an overabundance and overuse of abstract numbers and statements can achieve the opposite effect than is desired. Instead of creating clarity these complex facts take it away. This being said, some facts are necessary. These are clear and understandable facts which pinpoint the gravity of the issue. Similarly, they are necessary to identify that changes in the industry and consumer behaviour are necessary.
Firstly, The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that 1.3 Billion tonnes of food are lost and wasted each year (UNFAO, 2017). This number makes up 1/3 of the global food production that is intended for human consumption (FAO, 2017). Secondly, the carbon footprint of the said food waste is estimated to be a release of 3.3 billions of tonnes of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (FAO, 2017). Thirdly, the amount of water that is lost due to food waste is 230km3 which is the equivalent of Russia’s fourth biggest river Volga (FAO, 2017). Fourth, 1,4 billion hectares or 28% of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce food that ends up being wasted (FAO, 2017). Now, these are only four of the big, hard hitting facts directly linked to food waste. And as you can imagine the list goes on and on. Food waste impacts the loss of biodiversity, it impacts local and small farming businesses, it impacts vulnerable farmers and low income populations. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation also points out that the annual economic and financial losses due to food waste equal up to $750 billion (FAO, 2017). These are big facts and big problems, but here is a more interesting fact; individuals can make a difference. Small households can make a difference in reducing those numbers, in reducing food waste and improving livelihoods. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation also points out that home composting can divert about 150 kilos of food waste annually for local collection authorities, meaning our actions can make a difference (FAO, 2017). Do not let the facts intimidate you, because any action is a positive action. There are many things we as individuals can do, wherever we are and whatever our situation is, regardless of the country or neighbourhood we live in. Once we have done individual actions we can become valuable members of community actions through different initiatives and organisations such as Taste Before You Waste. What follows is a list of only a few of hundreds of small actions we can accomplish as individuals:
- Starting small, focus on one issue where you want to make a difference, for example, limit your portion sizes or share dishes with other people to reduce leftovers.
- Buy all vegetables, don’t be intimidated by an apple that is not perfectly round or shiny, because it is the exact same fruit, if merely of a slightly different shape.
- Make shopping lists of things that you know are essential and that you are certain you will use. Always use up all your ingredients before shopping for new ones.
- Be smart in using your fridge, some things can have a much longer life span in your freezer, while others can be kept at temperatures between 1-5 degrees Celsius to keep fresh the longest. Don’t stockpile perishable ingredients in your fridge and pantry, so you are always aware of what you have.
- Be creative in your cooking habits, look up recipes that allow you to use all of your leftover fruits and vegetables.
- Understand the meaning of sell by and use by dates. They are merely indications. For example, use by dates mean that the food is safe to be eaten until said date, whereas best before means it is at it’s very best before said date but can still be consumed afterwards. Be reasonable, check the items using your own senses before chucking them out as they still may be completely safe for consumption even if the use by date is expired.
- Recycle, many foods come in plastic, paper and glass packaging. Even though its not directly food waste, the disposal of this packaging still generates waste, so put an effort into trying to recycles as many materials as possible, including safely composting food.
- Other ways of ensuring food is not wasted is simply by giving it away or donating it. If it will become waste anyways, you may as well give it to someone who could use the help.
- If you can afford it, buy organic and bio foods as they will be more likely to be pesticide and chemical free which has a large impact on pollution created in the food chain.
- And always remember, food actions and decisions have short and long term consequences, and simple actions can help minimise them. Many of these food conservation techniques can also help you save money, because the more use you make out of a certain food the less money you will spend on groceries.
Community actions are aplenty. Most cities and towns have many organisations devoted to trying to make an impact in reducing food waste and helping those in need. However, if you are living in an area that does not have established organisations, you can start local action, not by creating an organisation of your own, but simply by leading easy activities, such as a joint composting site or community garden and kitchen. For instance food co-ops are a great way to eat sustainably while reducing food waste. Most European countries have numerous food waste organisations such as:
- Taste Before you Waste – Amsterdam, Bussum, Kingston, Utrecht
- Kromkommer – The Netherlands
- Plan Zheroes – London
- Copia – California
- Food Cloud – Dublin
- Waste2taste – Finland
- Food Recovery Network – United States
- This is Rubbish – UK
- The Zero Waste Lab – Amsterdam
- Landbouwbelang – Maastricht
- Sphinxpark – Maastricht
- Landhuis – Maastricht
- Robin Hood Army – India
These are a few of many existing initiatives and organisations whose aim is centred around conserving food that would otherwise become waste and in one way or another redistributing it within communities and to those who are in need. Other organisations include stores which provide organic foods and waste free food. This includes zero waste stores whose aim is to sell food in bulk without plastic packaging, meaning people come into these stores with their own containers and purchase food using these containers to minimise plastic, paper and food waste from oversized packages. What is becoming striking even after a preliminary search is that organisations are aplenty and they come in all shapes and sizes. People have the will to make a change and to participate, therefore we must not allow big facts and large problems to deter us from making small, intelligent and efficient solutions, which do make a difference in reducing both local and global waste and their consequences. Consumers are those with the power to make change and there is no better way to start than to act individually and locally. The answer seems to be easy, as it lies behind every corner. All you have to do is search up local activities and initiatives that deal with food waste. They are always looking for volunteers and help. No one will turn away a willing helping hand. So get started and help yourself, help your community and help your planet by paying attention and getting involved, the rewards will be as scrumptious as the food you save and eat.