Food waste and the environment, a link often missed

One way or another we all have been guilty of food waste, often unintentional but it still happens. That bunch of kale we bough because we should eat more greens but as the week passed by, it wilted in the fridge because we never managed to cook it. Those extra bananas we brought home just in case or that half a dozen apples we bought because it was cheaper than buying 3 or 4 we actually needed.

Food lost not only wastes of our money but resources and many people don’t realise it is contributing to climate change. For that reason today’s post is about food waste awareness.

The numbers

Let’s start with some numbers. I collected some statistics to understand the magnitude of this problem:

  • “If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter— surpassed only by China and the United States” (source)
  • “Food loss and waste generates more than four times as much annual greenhouse gas emissions as aviation, and is comparable to emissions from road transport” (source)
  • “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted” (source)
  • “Food waste is more a problem in industrialized countries, most often caused by both retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash. Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year” (source)
  • “Australian households throw out enough food every year to fill more than 450,000 garbage trucks. This food is worth A$5.2 billion!” (source)

For people living here in Victoria, Australia some local numbers extracted from Love Food Hate Waste website:

  • “Each year in Victoria, households throw out 250,000 tonnes worth of food – enough wasted food to fill Melbourne’s Eureka Tower.”
  • “The average Victorian household throws out $2,136 worth of food each year
  • “36% of the average Victorian household rubbish bin is made up of wasted food”

What’s the issue?

When I was a kid I was a picky eater and I always remember my mother scolding me and telling me about all those poor kids didn’t have any food to eat and I was there refusing to eat my lunch.

Sadly this was true and it is still true. So many people in need and hungry around the world, for that reason alone we shouldn’t be wasting our food. We all know that.

However, beyond this fact, food waste is taking its toll on the environment and many people don’t see the connection. Several years ago I was one of those people, it wasn’t until I started learning more about sustainability that I understood the link.

From the production stage to consumption, food requires massive amount of resources and also has a negative impact on the environment in many ways. Let’s see some examples to have a clearer picture:

  • Production:  water usage, land clearing,  soil degradation, chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers, energy required to grow food, methane emissions from livestock.
  • Processing/Packaging:  electricity and water required to process the food, packaging and resources like paper or plastic,  waste caused by food standards like shape or size (imperfect produce), food lost due to spoilage, part of the food that’s not required for a particular product and therefore is wasted.
  • Distribution: CO2 emissions caused by all type of transportation, imported food.
  • Shops/Retail: extra packaging, unsold food that’s wasted, expired food.
  • Consumption: energy we used to store/refrigerate food. Food that we buy, don’t eat and end up in the bin, emissions from food waste sent to landfill.

Last week I attended to a presentation about Food Waste organised by a local council here in Melbourne and they presented this video. I think it summarises quite well all the resources that are lost when food is wasted. Please check it out. It is totally worth it.

One of the things that the presenter highlighted that day was the fact that developed countries waste more food at the consumer phase, while developing countries waste food during production or retail phase. So in countries like Australia we can do a lot as consumers to prevent food waste.

Solutions

Food waste is a complex issue and it requires awareness and participation. If we pay attention, we can actually avoid food waste in many ways.

Also beyond the consumption stage we can make better choices through the whole food cycle to reduce and prevent food waste.

Here some tips to consider:

Shop smart

  • Keep a shopping list in the fridge and during the week write down the items you really need to buy.
  • When you are ready to shop, check the fridge/pantry and add to your list what’s missing. Sometimes if I still have many items in my fridge I also make a list of produce & amounts so that I don’t have to rely on my memory and end up buying more stuff I already had.
  • Plan your meals. I personally don’t do this one but I know it works for some people.
  • Buy only what you are gonna eat. These days shops have all these sales so people end up buying more food because it is sometimes cheaper, but it is not a good deal if it will end up in landfill. If you prefer to take advantage of these sales, make an extra effort to cook it or eat it, otherwise give the food away.
  • Buy more whole food. Processed food requires extra energy and resources to be produced. Also they often use cheap ingredients that are detrimental to the environment, like palm oil. Oh and never shop your groceries when you’re hungry, you’ll end up buying more junk food. Confirmed by study.
  • Shop local food. In Australia you can use LocalHarvest to find what’s available near you. Farmers markets are an excellent way to eat local.
  • Eat seasonal and reduce imported food.
  • Eat imperfect produce. The shape or size of these “ugly” fruits and veggies doesn’t change the quality of the product. Also let’s put pressure on the supermarkets to reduce the absurd food standards.

Store it properly

  • Some produce keep best in the fridge while others do well at room temperature/in dark places. It is important to store them properly so that they can last more. Also some fruits and veggies release a gas called ethylene that makes produce ripen faster, so ideally you want to keep away these ethylene-producers from certain food. Anne Marie from ZeroWasteChef.com has an excellent article about this topic, read it here.
  • Don’t pre-wash your fruits and veggies when you bring them home. Some food can spoil faster.

Eat it all

  • What’s for dinner? check your fridge and give priority to your leftovers. You can always mix them with other ingredients to make a different dish if you want variety.
  • Freeze your leftovers if you think you won’t be able to eat in the next few days.
  • Sometimes food gets lost in the fridge, if you know some food is prone to waste keep it visible. e.g first shelf closer to the fridge door.
  • Check the product dates but don’t treat them all the same. In Australia, from the FoodStandards website, these are the guidelines:

Used By: “Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date”

Best Before: “You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality”

If you are in USA, check this article.

Grow it

  • Start growing your own food. When you realise all the resources, time and effort that’s required to grow food, you’ll appreciate it even more and won’t waste it. It can be as simple as growing some herbs.
  • Attend to local food swaps where people from the local community get together and share excess produce.

Other

  • Keep track of what you throw away. Reflect on why it happened and what you can do to avoid that situation in the future.
  • Food waste in landfill generates methane. Even if you can’t compost at home, there are many options you can follow to avoid sending food to landfill. I wrote a post about this topic full of alternatives for you to consider; You can read it here.
  • Use tools like ShareHarvest to share food excess from your kitchen or garden with your local community.
  • Watch “Wasted: the story of food waste” documentary.
  • Watch this short clip to learn more about Food Waste:

“Everything you buy comes with its own set of responsibility – and food is not exception” – Rhonda Hazel

That’s it for today, let me know in the comments below: Which of these tips are you planning to implement? Do you have more tips to prevent food waste? Please share this information if you found it useful, more people need to understand how food waste harms the environment.

Let’s connect on Social Media

Thanks for reading,

Diana

By | 2018-10-01T16:00:27+11:00 September 28th, 2018|Food, Habits|2 Comments

About the Author:

I am Diana. I write about my journey trying to live a greener lifestyle and how we collectively can make a difference revisiting our beliefs and daily habits, learning more about the environment and being an active participant.

2 Comments

  1. Claire October 19, 2018 at 11:40 am - Reply

    I have connected with someone a couple of streets away from my place via Sharewaste and received my first contribution today. Food scraps that can be either composted or given to the chooks.
    Claire

    • GreenerIdentity October 29, 2018 at 6:03 pm - Reply

      Yay!!!! Well done Claire! I am glad you found a place nearby where you can donate your food scraps. I Hope more people join these efforts. Thanks for sharing the good news 🙂

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