Stop Wasting Food Now Everywhere In The World: Here’s Why
Food waste is described as food suitable for human consumption that is discarded, whether or not it has been held past its expiry date or has been allowed to spoil. This is frequently attributed to food spoilage, but it may also be due to other factors such as industry oversupply or individual customer shopping/eating habits.
Food waste occurs mostly (but not exclusively) at the retail and consumption stages of the food supply chain. According to estimates from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted from farm to fork. This waste not only has a massive negative effect on the global economy and food supply, but it also has serious environmental implications.
In a world where over 840 million people go hungry every day, it is critical to recognise that achieving food security entails more than just rising global food production. The long-term road to achieving food security for all is the establishment of better food systems, sustainable production and consumption approaches, more effective policies, and smarter investment patterns across related sectors. According to research, the planet produces enough food. However, most food is lost or wasted in the supply chain or as a result of poor consumption decisions. In recent years, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has stated that at least one-third, or 1.3 billion tonnes, of food produced, is wasted, resulting in the unnecessary use of 1.4 billion hectares of cropland.Food loss and waste have direct economic and environmental costs, as well as depleting the natural resource base that supports food production.
Estimated annual global food waste by sector
The alarming extent of global food waste has been exposed in a recent study published by the United Nations Environment Programme. According to its 2021 Food Waste Index, people throw out 931 million tonnes of food per year, with per capita food waste averaging 74kg per household.
569 million tonnes are classified as household waste. Supermarkets and other companies are also guilty of throwing away large quantities of food, with the estimated amount thrown away amounting to hundreds of millions of tonnes each year. According to the study, food service wastes 244 million tonnes per year, while retail wastes 118 million tonnes.
Food waste is defined by UNEP as food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product of good quality and fit for consumption but is not consumed because it is discarded, whether or not it is permitted to spoil or expire. Food waste occurs mostly (but not exclusively) at the retail and consumption stages of the food supply chain.
Total Annual household food waste produced in selected countries
Global food waste is rapidly becoming a billion-tonne epidemic. According to the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 Food Waste Index, the world generates 931 million tonnes of food waste per year, with households accounting for 569 tonnes of that total. The remainder is due to the foodservice and retail industries (244 million tonnes) (118 million tonnes). The average global household generates 74kg of food waste per capita per year, and this figure is broadly similar across country income classes, implying that widespread change is needed to address the issue.
According to the index, if food loss and waste were a nation, it would be the world’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. So, how inefficient are individual countries in terms of food? Unsurprisingly, the two countries with populations of more than a billion people had the highest absolute figures for food waste. China is expected to waste 91.6 million tonnes of food per year, while India wastes 68.8 million tonnes. The United States ranks slightly lower, with 19.4 million tonnes of food waste produced annually, while France and Germany generate between 4 and 6 million tonnes.
When it comes to waste produced per capita, the picture is quite different. For example, the average Indian household discards 50kg of food per year, compared to 59kg in the United States. Despite having a relatively low level of total food waste (2.6 million tonnes per year) compared to other nations, Australia has a high level of per capita waste, according to the index (102kg per household per year). In contrast, Russia’s overall household waste is projected to be 4.9 million tonnes per year, with waste per capita being just 33kg.
Efficiency losses in the food system
Given all of the energy required for food production, it is worthwhile to ensure that food is put to good use and that as little as possible is wasted on the way to our plates. Losses in our food system occur at different points along the supply chain. Food is lost for a number of reasons on farms, during manufacturing, delivery, and storage, in retail stores and foodservice operations, and in households. We really don’t know “how much food is lost at each point of the supply chain?”
Losses in Farming
Fresh produce suffers the most production losses. Meat, fish, and dairy all have unique problems that are not addressed here. Food loss on farms is divided into two types:
(1) food that is never harvested and
(2) food that is lost between harvest and sale.
Given the uncertainty and risks inherent in farming, it is difficult for farmers to grow precisely the amount needed to meet demand. Because of pests, disease, and weather disruption, produce cannot be harvested. In other cases, it is due to economic conditions. If market prices are too low at harvest, growers can leave some crops in the field because they will not cover their costs after labour and transportation costs. Furthermore, growers can plant more crops than the market needs in order to hedge against weather and pest pressure or speculate on high prices. Unharvested produce is often caused by food safety issues and labour shortages.
Losses Post-Harvest and in Packing
Culling is the leading cause of fresh produce losses after crops have been harvested. Culling is the method of extracting items based on consistency or appearance requirements, such as height, colour, weight, blemish level, and Brix (a measure of sugar content).
Furthermore, post-harvest losses are important. While some off-grade products—those that are not of high enough quality to sell in major markets—are processed, many are not. Most large processors have advance contracts with suppliers and often need unique characteristics that make the product processable. Furthermore, even if a processing facility is willing to accept goods that would otherwise be discarded, the location must be near enough to justify transportation costs, and the facility must be capable of processing the product. This can be especially difficult for small and medium-sized farmers. A significant portion of off-grade produce is often used in animal feed. The amount of money lost due to improper storage or handling has decreased, but it can still be important. Fresh produce, for example, will spoil in storage if a buyer is not found quickly enough.
Losses in Processing
Food losses in processing facilities are primarily caused by trimming, which involves the removal of both edible (skin, fat, peels, end pieces) and inedible (bones, pits) parts of food. Processing losses can also be caused by overproduction, product and packaging damage, and technical malfunctions, which can be difficult to prevent. Trimming during the manufacturing stage, rather than by the end-user, can be more effective in terms of quantity lost and future use of scrap by-products in some situations.
Losses in Distribution
Proper food transport and handling are critical throughout the supply chain, particularly for perishable products that need cold temperatures. Inconsistent refrigeration is less of a concern today than it was in the past, but it still happens when trucks break down or are involved in accidents. Other concerns arise when produce is handled at incorrect temperatures, such as when it sits on loading docks for a prolonged period of time. Imported goods can be held up for days at ports for inspection, greatly decreasing their shelf life.
Rejected shipments are a greater issue that arises during the delivery stage. If another buyer cannot be identified in a timely manner, rejected perishable shipments will be dumped. If these perishables do make it to a supermarket, their shelf life has been reduced by the time they arrive. They are sometimes taken to food banks if the food banks have the capacity to accept them.Also food banks will also refuse these loads if they cannot use them in the amounts being shipped, such as a truckload of beets. When individual stores may not need what they had forecasted, distribution centres could find themselves with excess inventory.
Losses in Retail
Food waste is estimated to account for 30–40% of the food supply in the United States. Based on USDA Economic Research Service estimates of 31% food loss at the retail and market levels, this figure corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion in food in 2010. Retailers, by their power both up and down the supply chain, are potentially responsible for a much larger proportion of overall losses, at least in part.
The following factors lead to in-store retail losses:
- Product displays that are overstocked
- Expectation of cosmetic perfection
- Pack sizes that are excessively wide
- Fresh, ready-to-eat food is available before the store closes.
- Expired “sell by” dates
- Damaged merchandise, out-of-date promotional pieces, and controversial items
- There is a shortage of personnel.
Losses in Food Service
Households and food service operations (restaurants, cafeterias, fast food, and caterers) lost 19 percent of total retail-level food supply in the United States, according to the USDA. Before reaching the market, approximately 4 to 10% of food purchased by restaurants becomes kitchen waste, both edible and inedible. A sizable portion is served but never eaten. Wide portions, the inflexibility of chain-store management, and the need to always have enough food on hand to produce a diverse menu are all causes of waste in food service. Furthermore, employee behaviour and kitchen culture can contribute to food waste.
Plate waste is a major contributor to food service losses, owing to large portions and unnecessary accompaniments. Diners leave 17% of their meals uneaten on average, and 55% of these possible leftovers are not taken home. Extensive menu options make proper inventory management difficult since large menus necessitate keeping more inventory on hand at all times. Unexpected sales changes make preparation challenging as well. Large buffets are particularly inefficient because they cannot reuse or even donate the majority of what is served due to health code restrictions.
Losses in Households
Approximately 25% of the food and drinks purchased by American families are discarded. The annual expense for a family of four is expected to be $1,365 to $2,275. According to a McKinsey survey, household losses account for eight times the energy waste of post-harvest losses on average, due to the energy used along the supply chain and in food preparation.In the United Kingdom, nearly two-thirds of household waste is caused by food spoilage due to not being used in time, while the remaining one-third is caused by people cooking or serving too much. This ratio, however, is unknown in the United States.
Because of the high level of consumption and the food’s proclivity to spoil, perishables account for the majority of food losses at the retail and end-consumer stages of the supply chain. New fruits and vegetables account for the most total mass losses, followed closely by dairy and meat/poultry/fish.
Food waste in the United States is mainly caused by the following factors:
- Food undervaluation and a lack of understanding
- Confusion over mark dates
- Purchases on the spur of the moment and in bulk
- Ineffective preparation
- Excessive planning
Losses during Disposal
Uneaten food decomposition accounts for 23% of total methane emissions in the United States. Just 3% of all food that is lost at various stages from farm to fork is composted. The vast majority were disposed of in landfills. In reality, food is now the single largest component of urban solid waste that enters landfills and eventually transforms to methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 25 times more effective in global warming than carbon dioxide.
Food scraps decompose in landfills and emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 25 times more effective in global warming than carbon dioxide. Food scraps rot faster than other organics due to their organic nature and high moisture content. As a result, they contribute a disproportionately large portion of the methane produced by landfills in the first years, often before the landfills are capped. According to one expert, food scraps account for 90 percent of landfill methane emissions during this time period. This accounts for a sizable portion of the 16 percent of overall methane emissions from landfills in the United States. According to a study from the United Kingdom, removing food scraps from landfills would result in the same amount of greenhouse gas abatement as removing one-fifth of the country’s cars from the lane.
Composting is an effective method of waste management. It lowers methane emissions, recycles nutrients, and increases awareness about the amount of food that is wasted. It also allows for the capture of methane for energy production by a method known as anaerobic digestion. No matter how productive we are with food, organic scraps will still need to be disposed of.Composting is an important complement to increasing food use efficiency for all these reasons.
Broad strategies to reduce the alarming food wastage
The food waste reduction strategies mentioned below are organised according to the categories of the inverted ‘food waste pyramid,’ which reflects the most to least environmentally friendly categories.
Reduce. Since the influence of food production on natural resources is immense and grows as the food moves up the food value chain, reducing food waste is by far the most effective way of reducing natural resource waste. For example, if the supply-demand balance can be properly adjusted upfront, it ensures that natural resources are not used to produce food in the first place. As a result, natural resources are not under threat and may be used for other purposes.
Reuse. When a food surplus exists, the safest choice is to hold it in the human food chain. This may imply seeking secondary markets for it or donating it to feed needy members of society, thus preserving its original intent and avoiding the use of additional capital to produce more food. If the food is unfit for human consumption, the next best option is to divert it for livestock feed, which saves money that would otherwise be spent on commercial feedstuff manufacturing.
Recycle. By-product recycling, anaerobic digestion, composting, incineration with energy recovery, and rendering are the key recycling and recovering options. All of these solutions allow for the recovery of energy or nutrients, giving them a major advantage over the landfill.
Landfill. Landfilling organic waste emits pollutants such as methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) which potentially pollutes soil and water, not to mention odour and other societal annoyances. Landfills should be used only as a last resort for food waste disposal, particularly in light of increased land scarcity for the citizens of our Earth.