Did you know that food waste in rich countries can feed almost an entire continent?
Food waste in Europe and North America amounts to 222 million tonnes, almost enough to fulfil the net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
Globally, we waste about 1.3 billion tonnes of food – or one third of the food we produce for human consumption never gets to our tables but instead goes to waste.
With this much food waste, how is our planet coping?
What is food waste?
Food waste here refers to both food loss and food waste caused by consumers. Food loss occurs during production stage due to poor handling, insufficient infrastructure and natural calamities, while food waste is food thrown away by consumers, households, restaurants and retailers due to spoilage, oversupply or because it does not meet their aesthetic and quality standards.
What is the impact of food waste on our environment?
Aside from lost opportunities to feed people and fight off hunger and malnutrition, food waste also causes negative environmental effects.
For one, food waste dumped in landfills generates large amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas that is 32 times more potent than carbon dioxide – which intensify the heat in the atmosphere, thus worsening global warming and climate change.
Food waste in landfills also produce groundwater pollution, as well as toxic chemicals such as ammonia when the waste gets mixed with rainwater. These toxic chemicals may seep into lakes, rivers or drinking water supplies.
Food waste also represents waste in the natural resources we use to grow food. Since agriculture uses up 70 percent of the world’s total water consumption, food waste means we are wasting a great amount of scarce freshwater and ground water resources.
In terms of land usage, we use 1.4 billion hectares of land – or around one third of the world’s total agricultural land area – to cultivate food that only ends up as waste.
What is the solution to food waste?
The most common-sense solution to food waste is to simply reduce it, especially within households. Consumers should be made aware of and educated on the best ways to avoid food waste in their homes. Emphasis should be put on buying what is needed and consuming food items before expiry to avoid waste.
Improvements across the food industry supply chain should also be made – from farms and factories, to distributors, retailers, groceries and restaurants – to prevent food loss and to implement large-scale solutions to food waste.
Municipalities and governments should implement waste management schemes that include proper sorting of food waste to ensure proper disposal and reuse of food waste as a resource for composts and for waste-to-energy.
Using anaerobic digestion (AD) plants, food waste can be converted into a clean energy called biogas, which can then be fed into homes and buildings for use as heat or steam. This helps to achieve two things at the same time: reducing the waste going to landfills and generating environment-friendly energy for consumers and businesses
The trash bin does not have to be the last stop of food waste. Using this to make compost or clean energy can help reduce the food waste going to landfills and thus prevent it from contributing to global warming and climate change, while promoting sustainability and social responsibility.