Food waste- Are you wasting food?
By Hagan Brown, Environmental Engineer specialized in water pollution control and environmental sustainability.
‘Climate change! Change climate! Climate change!’ was a typical bulletin story for most media outlets before COVID-19 arrived. What made these popular stories? What about the other megatrends? Does it present a significant risk like climate change or COVID-19 for it to be a top story?
Well, various patterns and movements have tremendously changed and impacted environmental and socio-economic activities. With urban migration, emerging middle class, fast pace of technological change, population growth, global pandemics such as COVID-19, increasing fight for resources, pressure on the ecosystem, environmental pollution being the most focused concerns, food waste has somehow been failed to mention.
One-third of all foods produced are wasted of which it could have been used to feed about 800 million malnourished people at least 4 times.
Food waste has been an important socio-political, ethical and business issue due to many reasons. Among these reasons, the fact that the world’s population increase about 81 million per year and more resources are needed to meet demand, food is wasted, making it an alarming reason. Moreover, one-third of all foods produced are wasted of which it could have been used to feed about 800 million malnourished people at least 4 times. Besides, food waste contributes about 8% of the total Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.
Humans derive enormous benefits from the ecosystem. Ecosystem services is what this is termed as. These services include the regulatory services, cultural services, supporting services and the provisioning service. Of these services, the provisioning service describes the materials and energy output from the ecosystem of which food, water and other resources are part of. This category makes the backbone of society since it provides the basic needs for survival. The sustainable conditions for the provisioning services has been surpassed to produce food, but organizations and individuals keep wasting food.
The food on our plates, travels a series of paths before it arrives on our table. It consists of farmlands where production takes place, processing company or individuals, transport and storage, and finally to household (consumer). Along this chain of supply, a large percentage of the food is wasted.
In farmlands, food waste could be as a result of post-harvest problems of which the availability of storage facilities cannot be left out.
Food processes which involves the use of different technologies in handling food also add up to a huge amount of food waste as well as the selection criteria of food by individuals or processing companies.
With storage and transport, food goes bad on shelves in retail stores and due to unfavorable temperature conditions during transport. In this category are the food products that are produced in high demand: meat and meat products (the mostly affected), followed by milk and dairy products.
Meat consumption has been estimated to increase over 70% till 2050 if current diet and lifestyle pattern does not change.
Already, meat production has had a huge impact on natural resources and a huge contributor to climate change. With all the meat that has been produced and gone to waste, its consumption has been estimated to increase over 70% till 2050 if current diet and lifestyle pattern does not change. It will present an unprecedented crises as natural lands would have to be turned into agricultural lands causing crisis of terrestrial biodiversity loss which is tend to increase about 10% by 2050 as predicted by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) besides soil degradation and water consumption concerns.
Households represent the highest portion of food waste: over 50%.
A huge portion of this percentage has been attributed to the growing rate of middle class and their consumption patterns. The European Commission on their growing consumption report stated, by 2030, Asia is expected to harbor 5.3 billion middle class people with a significant high volume residing in China and India. These countries will have 66% of the middle-class population who will be responsible for 59% middle-class consumption.
Even though it will increase the economic drive, it will have an adverse impact on food security since more food will be purchased and will not be eaten.
Food insecurity, which has become the topic of interest these years due to the rate of population growth, adverse impact of climate change and increased pollution, it is forecasted to rise if actions are not taken.
Addressing food waste will actively align the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards avoiding hunger and providing a sustainable consumption and production patterns for all.
FUSIONS, an European (EU) funded food waste reporting project, declared a total cost €143 billion worth of food waste of which two-thirds came from households of 28 EU countries and it is alarming to realize household food waste are the most edible of all the foods in the chain. Food waste incurs cost and causes waste management to rise. When food waste ends up at landfills and decompose in the absence of oxygen, it releases methane, a GHG with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) between 28 and 36 compared to carbon dioxide (CO2), making it a critical topic to be addressed.
Drawdown, a leading resource for climate solution established that, if 50 -75% of food waste are reduced by 2050, emissions equal to 10.3 to 18.8 gigatons of CO2 will be avoided which could prevent deforestation. Consequently, it will improve the mitigation of climate change since agriculture and forestry activities generate about 24% of GHGs emission worldwide.
The European Environmental Agency (EEA) deduced two approaches towards megatrends. They mentioned that, megatrends, of which food waste is included, are manifestation of vast number of processes and changes across the world in which seeking to shape global change in a way to mitigate and manage risk in addition to creating opportunities is the first approach.
In view of this, governments and organizations have taken similar actions by putting in place measures to manage, mitigate and create opportunities from food waste. Vermont Universal Recycling law on food scraps saw an increase of food donation by 40% within the 2015-2016 period as well decreased landfill rate of food waste by 5% from 2014 to 2015. The law also ban food waste from household waste this year, 2020. From this policy, food scraps were defined as parts of food items that are typically discarded rather than eaten: peels, cores, eggshells, coffee grounds as well as food that was not finished: leftovers that went bad which include bread, pasta, soup, vegetables, fruits, sauces, meat, dairy, sweats and so on.
Alike, policies on food donation has been passed by some countries. For instance, in the United States of America, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 exempts individual who make good faith donation to non-profit organization from liability of injuries endured from the consumption of food. Also, there exist tax policies that encourage the tax deduction for companies who donate wholesome food to qualified non-profit organizations to serve the poor and needy. All these policies are directed toward promoting the stop of food waste. France and Italy have donation policies as well.
A report from Chinese Academy of Science and World Wildlife Fund concluded 17 – 18 million tons of food wasted in China by its 1.4 billion population can feed 30 – 50 million people annually. To address food waste, Chinese Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping mentioned food waste is “Shocking and distressing” according to State news Xinhua. He also announced the ‘operation empty plate’ campaign. The campaign that sets out the N-1 system, which implies guests to order one less fewer dish than the number of diners to help prevent food waste, an issue that is threatening food security amidst COVID-19 and recent flooding in southern China.
EEA also mentioned to find ways to adapt to global trends in its second approach. It declared seeking to anticipate and avoid harm by increasing the resilience of social, environmental and economic systems. Equally, some countries are strengthening the technical development in agriculture to prevent post-harvest losses, a situation that degrades the economy of most countries. Organizations are also providing sustainability skills training to staff in order to cooperate with suppliers to boost delivery dates, quantities as well as develop skills in inventory management to link supply of products to actual demand to prevent food waste.
Apps against Food Waste
Also, some mobile applications have been developed in the fight to prevent food waste. Some applications help sell leftovers at discounted prices while others link ‘attractive-imperfect’ foods directly from farmers to consumers in order to maintain the ecosystem's resilience. A typical example can be seen from rainbow of hope. Wefood, a retail shop in Denmark, too sells surplus food at 30 - 50% cheaper prices compared to prices at supermarkets. Some countries also provide loans to farmers to help secure storage facilities for their harvest to prevent food waste.
Since household food waste takes a greater portion of the total food waste, it has attracted attention to be a very significant issue to be addressed. A greater number of institutions have developed educational measures in addressing this issue.
Within these measures, food labels prove to be a factor that contributed to food waste because it affects the behavior of people towards food. Concerning food labels, consumers were made to know food labels are provided by manufacturers to help decide when food is at its best quality. Dates on foods are not indication of product’s safety with exception of some products, for example infant formula. If the date on food passes home storage, it should be still safe unless spoilage is obvious. Also, perishable foods should not be stored close to the door of the refrigerator due to temperature difference and old foods should be eaten first to help combat food waste. Food waste educational measures have been developed to make consumers critically think about their selection criteria towards food, the portion of food that could be eaten, behavior towards food and to realize their impact of food wasting .
All of these measures are aiding to adapt to food waste for our social, economic and environmental improvements through various systems.
Food waste is a huge threat to survival, risk to the environment and socio-economic improvement, however, with a proper planning and sustainable strategic decision making, sufficient food will be provided to meet global demand of consumption to address food insecurity, climate change besides maintaining ecosystem resilience.