Reducing Food Waste to Safeguard the Future

Environment 2013-01-27

Food waste and loss has been making headlines recently. It is estimated that we discard 1.3bn tonnes of food worldwide each year, about 1/3 of the total food produced. In the Western world, waste equates to between 95kg and 115kg per person. This falls to 6-11kg in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. It is estimated that about half of the food wasted in industrialised regions is perfectly edible. This discarded food could not only help feed many of the hungry people in the world, but also wastes the resources used to grow and process it such as labour, water, land and energy. Most of the food loss occurs during harvesting, processing and distribution, while food waste occurs in purchasing. Many businesses impose strict controls on how food should look (i.e. size and shape), but consumers also have a tendency to buy too much and throw away perfectly edible food.

Additionally, the general perception that food will decompose in landfill is misinformed. Light and air are needed for rotting, neither of which are available in landfill. Food in landfill goes on to produce methane, a gas that contributes to global warming.

So why does this matter? The first implication of food losses is cost – making sure we use the world’s resources to the best of our ability could make big savings worldwide. For example, the average UK family could save between £480 and £680 a year. The world population is also expected to grow by two billion by 2050, emphasising the need for improved food management.

A second implication of waste is sustainability. With deforestation, limited energy and water resources and over-fishing being just some of the major problems facing us, ensuring we use food wisely could protect our environment and resources. When we go abroad, we might visit rainforests, go and discover the region’s specific landscape or go diving. However, currently, over 20% of cultivated land and forests are being degraded. By reducing food loss at all stages from harvesting to consumption, we could protect our environment from further degradation, feed the hungry and make sure future generations enjoy the landscape we enjoy today.