According to the 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI) more than 820 million people in the World do not have enough food to eat, that’s more than 1 in 9 of the world population. On top of that, 2 billion people are experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. And yet, it’s estimated 1/3 of the food produced all over the world for human consumption is not consumed, but ends up rotting in a bin instead. Every year about 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated in the EU. Food waste is not only an ethical issue but also an environmental one: as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, wasting food generates about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. That’s because when food is wasted so are all resources needed to make it: land, water, soil, energy and seeds. But it doesn’t end here.
In fact, when food decomposes in anaerobic conditions it emits methane, a greenhouse gas about 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth over a 100-year period. All actors in the food chain, from the farmers to the individual households, are taking part in this massive waste production. According to the FAO, food loss is the decrease in the quantity or quality of food caused by food suppliers in the chain, excluding the retail level and the consumers.
Food waste instead is a term used to refer to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food caused by retailers, food service providers and consumers. In low income countries food loss is quite common, due to inadequate storage facilities and transport conditions and lack of suitable infrastructure. In developed countries instead most of the food waste happen in people’s homes, so much so that 53% of all food waste in Europe comes from household. According to the FAO, European and North American consumers waste around 95kg to 115kg of food annually, while in sub-Saharan Africa and South and South East Asia they waste only 6kg to 11kg a year.
There are many reasons why people waste their food, one of them is definitely the easy access a lot of people in wealthier countries have to an abundant and variated selection of food. This makes some people perceive food as something easy to get and therefore more disposable. Some people are very quick to discard food they see as too old to be eaten in the name of food safety. Others instead associate a well-stocked fridge and pantry to wealth and security and wouldn’t be caught dead with a few inches of empty space in their refrigerator, even if they don’t have the time or the will to cook all of its content. Ideally, we should figure out the right balance between having an inventory that is too small to actually make meals out of it and one that too big to cook everything before it goes bad.
Having a few pantry staples that you can use to make meals that fit your taste, budget and cooking skills can be a great way to start cutting down your food waste. Many budget-hacks are also food waste-hacks like sticking to the grocery list, batch cooking, using what you have in the cupboard before buying new items and making vegetable broth from kitchen scraps. Composting can also play a big part in reducing one’s food waste and it can be doable even for people who live in a flat.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have revealed in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production that more than one-third of farmed fruit and vegetables never reaches supermarket shelves because it is misshapen or the wrong size, therefore it doesn’t meet consumers’ and retailers’ standards of how produce should look like. Food that is close to, at, or beyond its “best-before” date is often thrown away by supermarkets. In the bins of retailers’ one can also find food that has been discarded because their shape and size are deemed not good enough for the consumers. But while most supermarkets are throwing away a lot of food, there are also many companies whose mission is to fight food waste. A London-based company called Oddbox delivers, as the name suggest, wonky rescued surplus produce that is at risk of becoming food waste, since it doesn’t meet supermarkets’ aesthetic criteria. The fruit and vegetables are rescued directly from farms and delivered in cardboard boxes that are then collected and recycled by the company itself. Berlin-dwellers may want to check out Sirplus, a German start-up that brings surplus food back into the cycle by selling it in their Berlin stores and in their online shop. They work directly with 700 producers and wholesalers to save food that would not be sold by regular supermarkets even though it’s still valuable and perfectly edible. If you don’t live in either of these towns, you can try out a free app called Too Good To Go, which allows you to purchase unsold food from restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets and hotels. This way you get food at a discounted price and you also prevent it from being thrown away at the end of the day. Founded in Denmark, this company connects its users with unsold food in 15 countries including Portugal, Italy and Spain.
Finding which foods we like and consume the most, using them to make tasty meals and discovering new sustainable businesses are all ways in which consumers can tackle food waste, a problem that should be fixed for a plethora of very serious reasons, from the ethical and financial ones to the need to fight climate change. Farmers, food manufacturers and processors, retailers and consumers all have a role to play in reducing food waste and promoting a culture of respect for food and the resources that go into producing it.