The Problem of Food Waste
Article by Rhyia Laycock
“Anyone who thinks you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist”. In 2016, the United Nations goals of sustainability were adopted by leaders across the globe. The goal was to set out a series of problems that affect most people and find ways to tackle them. From no poverty to climate action, among the goals was zero hunger by 2030 and responsible consumption and production. So, why is it that the UK throws away over 2 tonnes of food each year, whilst 7 million people struggle to afford to eat?
Food waste, to put it simply, refers to any food products that are thrown away. This can be from the scraps left on your plate to the “for sale” items you grabbed at the last second at the store but forgot about so they ended up in the bin. We’ve all done it. You buy a bag of apples, take one before putting the rest in the fruit bowl and then get on with your day, rushing to lectures in the morning, going to parties in the evening, and generally forgetting about the apples you bought. Ten days later, they look mouldy and brown. So instead of making a juice or an apple pie, you throw them away, wondering how they went off so quickly. And it’s not just apples, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), one-third (or 1.6 billion tonnes) of the food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost, throwing away approximately £470  per household on edible food.
Our complex food production system, which focuses on the rapid and cheap production of goods, is failing. “Think about the land, the energy, the water that goes into producing our food,” says Rose Rolle, food loss and waste team leader at the FAO. “When you throw away food, all those efforts and resources are also thrown away”.
The main issue used to stem from supermarkets, however thanks to the food recovery hierarchy, featured below, an increase in food surplus has been handed out to charities, community groups, for animal scraps, etc.
Surveys show that most of the food waste nowadays comes from households. Most people don’t give food waste the importance it needs because of the recycling and food waste disposal practices adopted in homes. Poor consumer awareness means that many simple changes in the way we consume, such as shopping with a list, storing food properly, saving or even freezing leftovers, composting, etc. go a long way when preventing food waste. Easy access to abundant supplies of cheap produce makes consumers lazy about what they buy and how much of it gets thrown away. To quantify this data, Kate Parizeau, associate professor at the University of Guelph, ran a study on the waste of 94 Canadian families and discovered that each family threw out around 3kg of avoidable food waste each week, equivalent to 23.3kg of carbon emissions.
A total of 35% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from the way we produce our food and drink, showing the huge impact our unsustainable system has on climate change. Recent studies have shown how animal-based foods produce almost twice the emissions of plant-based ones. If, according to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste “represents one of the greatest possibilities for individuals, companies and communities to contribute to reversing global warming” and we know that a shortage of food isn’t the issue but how we manage it then, why aren’t we making a change in the production system a priority? Why are we still throwing away 3kg of food each week? When enough people care about a problem, that is when it is time for action. I refuse to be disheartened about the problem of food waste. Education and small changes to the way we shop, cook and consume food will help reduce our environmental impact. It may take some effort, but cutting down some of these wasteful habits we have grown accustomed to can have a real impact on the planet.