Wasting Our Food Supply

March 19th, 2015 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Wasting Our Food Supply

produceSelectionAccording to the U.N. Environment Program, between 20 and 40 percent of produce is thrown away by farmers simply because it isn’t pretty enough for grocery store shelves. Globally, food waste costs nearly $400 billion annually.

In developed nations, food waste happens most often at the retail and consumer level. Grocery stores often adhere to strict quality guidelines that place too much emphasis on appearance, leading to the disposal of produce that is nutritionally sound but not aesthetically pleasing. Each year, enough unspoiled food is thrown away in developed nations to feed the world’s 870 million hungry people.

But food waste is more than an economic burden — it’s increasingly becoming an environmental burden as well. Most food waste ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas nearly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the U.S., where nearly 30 percent of food is wasted, organic waste is the second most prevalent element in landfills. Globally, food waste accounts for 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, eclipsed only by the United States and China.

As greenhouse gas emissions increase — driven by food waste and countless other factors — consumers might be forced to be less picky eaters anyway. A new report published by climate scientists at the University of Melbourne warns that the effects of climate change, including shifting rainfall patterns and climate-related diseases, will result in the production of less flavorful, lower-quality food.

Below are some Food Waste Facts that everyone should be aware of courtesy of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The impact of food waste is not just financial. Environmentally, food waste leads to wasteful use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides; more fuel used for transportation; and more rotting food, creating more methane – one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change. Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The vast amount of food going to landfills makes a significant contribution to global warming.

– Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.

– Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).

– The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).

– Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.

– In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage –and cooling facilities. Thus, a strengthening of the supply chain through the support farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food –and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste.

– In medium and high-income countries food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behavior of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries. Moreover, the study identified a lacking coordination between actors in the supply chain as a contributing factor. Farmer-buyer agreements can be helpful to increase the level of coordination. Additionally, raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for safe food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.

– In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion (€32.5 billion), is thrown away each year. It is estimated that about half of the water used to produce this food also goes to waste, since agriculture is the largest human use of water.

– United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes purchased. This means that approximately 32% of all food purchased per year is not eaten. Most of this (5.9 million tonnes or 88%) is currently collected by local authorities. Most of the food waste (4.1 million tonnes or 61%) is avoidable and could have been eaten had it been better managed

– In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are one of the largest source of methane emissions.

Eat less and waste less. We can do this!