Food Waste Is A Huge Problem: How Can We Start To Tackle It?

A shocking amount of good food ends up as landfill - we need to work together to win the battle on waste
A huge amount of produce goes to landfill sites (Photo: Alexandr Podvalny)

The problem with food waste is that it is not only a domestic issue, but also a systemic one, meaning that every step from supplier to consumer, is a constant battle to prevent waste. 

Our obsession with cosmetic standards and the convenience of cancelling orders helps consumers to play a large role in dictating how much waste actually occurs. 

But it is hard to comprehend how much food we actually discard each month, so it’s important to take a look at the sheer scale of the problem, why it is happening, and what solutions we can use to help ease the situation.

Farmers grow huge amounts of food - which are then wasted

Scale

Firstly, let’s look at scale. 30 percent of all food produced around the world is going to waste each year, and this is having a massive effect on both the planet and its people. 

So much so that if we compared the greenhouse gas emissions from the top emitting countries, after the U.S. and China, food waste would be the third largest emitter in the world. 

This is largely down to the scale and mass production of crops, using a total of 4.5 billion hectares worldwide to grow the world’s food. But what makes this so terrifying is that 1.4 billion hectares of that land is wasted. 

This ‘wasted’ land uses over 250 trillion tonnes of water to grow the food that is already destined for landfill. 

This is equivalent to the yearly water-usage of Europe, four times over. And these are just some of the resources used and wasted to grow our food.

Consumer

If we start at the bottom of the ‘wasted’ food chain, you’ll find the consumer. 

Every year, we individually throw away 95kgs of food, which equates to a months worth of food annually for the average European family. 

This is largely due to over ambitious portion sizes in the home, and restaurants catering for an absurdly large menu throughout the year. 

Food waste has a huge impact on the planet

Production

Due to the systemic problem in food production, the chain ‘leaks’ at every level. 

Starting with the movement of food, which pales in comparison to the other stages, transit wastes around 19kg of food per person, per year. 

This is partly due to perishable foods not being delivered on time, but also because of last minute cancellations by the consumer.

Furthermore, convenience-driven factories are also a large part of the problem, as many parts of the ingredients used are unsellable. 

For example, the heels of bread are discarded as they cannot be used in the sandwich production, and therefore head to landfill. 

There are no systems in place to reuse this food in anyway, be it donations to food charities, or even just a composting system that can allow the food to be churned back into the ground. 

34kgs of food per person is wasted in this manner, and a further 30kgs per person is lost due to order cancellations, and food not being kept securely or in the correct temperature.

Storing veggies properly extends their lifespan

Suppliers

And then we have the ‘big guy.’ 

At the top of our ‘wasted’ food chain sits the farms that supply major supermarkets, restaurants, and catering services. 

A whopping 100kgs of food is wasted per person due to unrealistic cosmetic standards of supermarkets, which they claim are imposed by consumers. 

Fruits and vegetables deemed too ugly, wonky, small, or too large are wasted regardless of their nutritional value, and left to rot. 

Not only do farmers have to contend with high consumer standards, but also supermarkets cancelling or changing orders to suit their consumer needs. 

This leads to surplus food that, again, is left to rot. 

Hence why this is a systemic problem; we have a system that forces farmers to over produce to ensure they have enough food that meets the cosmetic standards and last-minute orders from supermarkets. 

The rest goes to waste.

Food waste happens at every stage of the process

Solutions

So now you know the problem with food waste, let’s discuss some solutions that can help ease the situation from a consumer standpoint, which will in turn alter the demand on every link of the supply chain.

Let’s start with the home. 

There are several ways to ensure that the food you buy doesn’t end up in your bin because you’ve forgotten to eat it all by the end of the week. 

So firstly, make a list of everything you need and plan what you will buy and make for that week. Organization and preparation is everything. 

Ensure that you have something to store leftover food in the fridge or freezer, and try to go back for seconds rather than loading up your plate with food you might not finish. 

Think before you throw. There are loads of things you can do with sad looking wilted veggies, like making soups, or simply keeping scraps to make homemade veggie stock. 

It may even be a good idea to keep a food waste diary so as to better understand what you are actually wasting - this will help you plan better in future.

Cutting down on food waste can be easy - as long as you are prepared

Shopping

Supermarkets dictate their behavior on what they think our consumer needs may be, so try to pick single bananas, ugly or wonky veggies, and even those tiny potatoes that taste just as good. 

There are also organizations like OddBox that have created a weekly Veg box service, which directly fights food waste by buying the wonky fruit and veg that supermarkets won’t. 

This also helps you to eat locally and seasonally.

Finally, you can encourage local businesses and distributors to donate their surplus food to great charities like FareShare and FoodCycle (and many more) that give unwanted food to those less fortunate than ourselves. 

There is a lot of work to do to ensure that that 30 percent of food that we are currently wasting does not go to landfill. 

By making small changes, getting organized and engaging in your local community, together we can fight the war on waste.

Useful Resources

http://solvefoodwaste.eu/en for stats cited

https://feedbackglobal.org/ 

https://www.oddbox.co.uk/ 

http://fareshare.org.uk/

https://www.foodcycle.org.uk/

READ MORE:

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This Woman Wants To Change The Vegan Milk Market With A New Product

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PBN Contributor:

Immy Lucas is a Social media activist and Campaigner with a focus on sustainability and Zero Waste living. Using both instagram and Youtube Immy attempts to seeks to merge Veganism with Zero waste to engage both communities in a wider environmental context. Immy's activism centres itself around the small changes we can all make in our everyday lives to ensure that we create a huge impact, and hopefully change the world one plastic bottle at a time.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

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