It is estimated that globally between 30 and 50 percent of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted (Lundqvist, Fraiture, & Molden, 2008), adding up to an astonishing 1.3 billion tons of food per year (Gustavsson, Cederberg, Sonesson, Otterdijk, & Meybeck, 2011, p. 4). Gustavsson et al. (2011) indicate that in developing countries, most food is lost at lower levels of the FSC (e.g. production and processing), because of weather conditions, lack of knowledge or inadequate technology. In developed countries, on the other hand, food waste often happens at distribution level due to emphasis on the physical and aesthetic appearance of food, as well as at the consumer level because food waste can be afforded. According to Voedingscentrum (2012), Dutch consumers waste 47 kilograms of edible food per person a year, which is 38% of the total amount of food waste in the Netherlands, making them the biggest wasters in the Dutch chain (p. 2). However, “the scale of consumer food waste in high-income countries is probably underestimated” (GO Science, 2011, p. 94), due to predicaments in measurement. In some developed countries there is up to 200% more food available than the population physically needs (Stuart, 2009, p. 175), while in other places people are starving, indicates that there is a fundamental imbalance “in the distribution of food and the resources with which to access it” (FAO, IFAD, & WFP, 2002, pp. 9–10).
Throwing away food while people are dying due to a lack of it could be seen as disrespectful and immoral. But more objectively, considering that in our current economic system the price of food, like all products, is largely determined by demand and supply, it can be said that when developed countries buy much more food than they need, they increase the world food prices which comes at a social cost. As Stuart (2009) states: “We live in a closed room, the Earth, on which we can grow in any year a finite (though variable) amount of food – and currently the rich outbid the poor for it, sometimes merely to waste it” (pp. 83–84). Besides the anti-social aspect of food waste, there are also negative consequences to the environment. When wasting food we are not merely wasting the product itself, but also all the materials that were put into the product from farm to bin. The agricultural sector “accounts for 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals, and more than 90 percent of consumptive use” (FAO, 2012, pp. 1–2). Moreover, the sector is one of the major sources of water pollution mainly through fertilizer use which leaches nitrate into the groundwater aquifers (UN Water, 2013). Several researchers warn us for impending water scarcity (Dani, 2015; FAO, 2012; Lundqvist et al., 2008), so it might be considered unwise to spray and irrigate crops that will not be eaten, as we are not only dependent on our water supply for drinks, but for food as well.