We are facing many different challenges across the world such as environmental accidents, global warming and industrial pollution but there is something else that is happening that many of us are not aware of. Food Waste.
Food. We all need it and many of us are lucky enough to have access to the wide range of products found in the supermarkets. However, the relationship that we have with food waste is often one of out of sight and out of mind. This relationship is causing problems on a global scale and this issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
To gain an understanding of the scale of the problem, the food we waste contributes to the production of greenhouse gases, with the amount of emissions that food produces being the third-highest behind China and America.
The issue of global food waste is not just about consumers creating waste. The problem with food waste begins life at the start of the food production process which includes the growing of crops, livestock and even during the manufacturing process. All of this plays into the overall problem where a significant amount of food is wasted each year.
Scratch the surface and you begin to realise that there are wasted resources such as water, then there is the transportation of produce and the processing of food. We also don’t see the first-hand the effects of starvation in certain countries throughout the world. We simply see our food in the bin and think nothing more of it.
The cold, hard facts are staggering. One-third of food produced globally is wasted and that equates to 1.3 billion tonnes while a quarter of our water supply is used to produce the food we eat. Many of us are making a change when it comes to other challenges we are facing as a global community, such as plastic or energy consumption, but food waste has perhaps, not gained as much attention as these other issues.
There is not one single, clear-cut answer to this question. However, there are a number of reasons as to why food is wasted. Food waste is something that occurs at every stage of the process ranging from the moment it is grown to the moment it reaches the consumer.
Food can become lost through spillages, it can become spoiled during transit and it can become damaged by insect infestation. In reality, there is a multitude of reasons as to why food is wasted and a number of ways in which it can be wasted.
It has already been identified that the problem of food waste is more than the food that is thrown away as it includes the entire supply chain. The food that we see in the supermarkets goes through a lengthy production process to get to the supermarket shelves. As part of this process, there is the use of a number of resources, all of which can have their own impact on the environment.
The entire process of growing, harvesting and manufacturing food is one that utilises a lot of fresh water. Water is precious to us and there is no denying that we are using a lot of it and in some parts of the world, water is a resource that has to be rationed and not used needlessly. Water usage itself is a global problem and food loss and waste is contributing to it.
When you consider that 70% of the palatable water on earth is used for drinking water for livestock or for crop irrigation, it brings the whole problem of food waste into perspective. Again, the figures are alarming, with 125 litres of water being used to grow one apple or 15,400 litres of water is needed to grow 1kg of beef. This is an incredible amount of water that is used on an annual basis, much of which is wasted, adding to the misery of global food waste.
The land on earth is precious, valuable and limited, yet 28% of the world’s agricultural areas are utilised for the production of food that goes to waste. This causes problems with the quality of the land but also the need to clear land to make way for space to grow crops.
The sheer size of global food production is phenomenal, especially when you consider that a land mass greater than the size of China is used to grow the food each year that does not get eaten. This is land that has been developed to the point where rainforests have been destroyed, species have been driven out of their habitat of which many have been driven to extinction, while indigenous populations have been moved from their homes. All of this is done to produce food that simply gets wasted.
The food we eat goes through a significant manufacturing process. This would include the likes of crops being turned into specific foods or the processing of meat. This entire manufacturing process requires a lot of energy and it utilises a number of resources and a large portion of the food that leaves this process goes to waste. This is where food waste becomes a global issue on another level because of the wasted resources and harmful gases that are emitted as part of the process.
Of course, a great deal of the food we eat comes in plastic packaging. We are all aware of how much of a problem plastic is for the environment. So, the production of all of this plastic is an issue in itself but the needless waste it produces that gets thrown into the oceans or dropped into landfill becomes an additional problem that is underpinned by food waste. If we produced less food, it would lead to less waste and a reduction in plastic packaging.
If a figure was put on the carbon footprint of food waste then this would stand at an appalling 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. This figure is derived from the transportation, the growing of food, the production and manufacturing process as well as the greenhouse gases that are a result of rotting food waste. Clearly global food waste is a problem that needs to be attacked from a number of different angles.
Food waste is also considered to be a global problem because of the number of people who are suffering from starvation in the world. Around 800 million do not have access to food in the same way as people in developed countries. This means that 1 in 9 people in the world are starving or malnourished.
However, each person could be fed on under a quarter of the food that goes to waste in the UK, Europe and the USA each year. What might also surprise many is the fact that hunger is not just a problem for people who live in under-developed countries because it is a problem for these same, developed countries. There are many people living in ‘food poverty’ and all that wasted food could ensure that almost every person on the planet has access to the right nutrition.
By 2050, it is estimated the population of the world is going to increase from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion. Food produced globally is going to struggle to keep up with this growing population while food waste is going to grow proportionately, especially if nothing is done to solve the problem.
There is a significant amount of food waste or food loss seen during the life span of food from the moment it is grown to the moment it reaches consumers. The aim here is to reduce loss by improving training for farmers as well as making improvements in infrastructure. There are new refrigeration technologies available as well as renewable energy sources that can reduce food waste.
Solar-powered refrigeration systems can reduce waste by dealing with disruptions in the chain while new coatings that can be placed on produce help to control the amount of water and carbon dioxide that fruit releases. This also controls the amount of oxygen that enters the fruit, helping it to stay fresher for longer.
As new technologies emerge they can give suppliers more time to deliver goods, while also giving consumers more time to use it, therefore, increasing the time it takes for food to spoil.
This is an area that supermarkets need to make an improvement in because donating unsold goods can significantly reduce the amount of waste. There are a number of supermarkets in the UK that are already working with platforms that notify local charities when surplus food is available.
In France, great strides have been made in dealing with surplus edible food as it is illegal for supermarkets to discard unused foods and they are required to make regular donations. In fact, there are now supermarkets that sell excess food that has been discarded by other markets, where consumers can purchase food that is past its sell-by date but is still considered safe to eat at a fraction of the cost.
These are all promising signs, but a transparent approach is needed within the supply chain to reduce unused food. This could be as simple as improving communications with farmers so that they do not overproduce foods.
There are initiatives in place that make use of food waste such as turning coffee cherries into flour or creating ale from leftover bread while food waste can be used to produce household energy. This is a great way to make use of perishable items that are not suitable for consuming yet they can be put to use in other ways, reducing the need for duplication in the production or supply chain.
Essentially, dealing with the problem of food waste comes down to education. This can begin at the starting point of the production process and it filters through the entire chain until it reaches the consumer. The food industry can improve labelling and dates to increase consumer awareness as there are some foods that are still fine to eat beyond the dates on the packaging.
Improving education and awareness for food waste will certainly draw attention to the problem of food waste and will make everyone aware of just how much of a problem it really is. Once the problem has been acknowledged both on a global scale and on a supply chain level, only then can the correct changes be implemented to reduce food waste which is a growing and worrying problem.