Food waste can often feel like a huge topic. The reason it feels so big is simple: food waste issues typically stem from production. It’s not long before you’re talking supply chains and a myriad of issues far outside the average consumer’s reach. While you’re unlikely to affect the supply chain issues, there are some things you can do.
What is food waste?
UNEP describes food waste as “food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product, of good quality and fit for consumption, but still doesn’t get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil or expire.”
Food waste usually occurs at the later stages of the production cycle, i.e. when it gets into our hands. The most perishable foods include fruits and vegetables, which also doubles up as some of the most ‘this week I swear my diet gets better’ foods available. The end result is a “the best-laid plans go to (food) waste” scenario.
How food waste affects the planet
The sheer amount of food waste is staggering when seen in plain numbers. According to a study, 30-40% of food produced is never eaten. This waste happens at every point of the production cycle. Some food spoils before it reaches consumers; retailers throw a great deal away, and the food mentioned above ruins at home.
A guardian article points out that “if food waste were its own country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter globally, after only China and the United States.” When thrown into landfills, food waste causes large amounts of methane, and these gases are 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.
How do you eliminate food waste?
If nearly half of the world’s food is being wasted, there’s clearly a massive issue in terms of production. In terms of things you can do personally, a rethink is needed in terms of buying food.
Namely, the focus on a ‘big shop,’ where we get a week’s worth of food in one go, is a tradition that will need to go. Instead of buying an array of fresh goods that you’re unsure you’ll eat, instead, purchase frozen goods that you can thaw in smaller quantities to ensure you use everything you eat.
Why it’s so hard to eliminate food waste
While the idea of changing the way you shop sounds good, it’s easier said than done. After all, overshopping is a habit we’ve formed for years; it’s not a case of simply flipping a light switch.
There’s also the sheer amount of waste before products reach consumers’ hands. It was only a few months ago that a dumpster diver found $1,000 worth of Whole Foods produce in a bin that hadn’t even expired yet.
Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods reportedly throw away more than 43 billion pounds a year, much of it in an edible condition. And that’s not to discuss the amount of food thrown away because it looks imperfect.
But this food is thrown away because consumers have long been conditioned to judge food by the way it looks. And until this mentality changes, the road to reducing food waste on a large scale is long.