Food waste is an intensifying humanitarian and environmental concern that affects food security across the planet. Here is an in-depth explainer about this crisis and tips to minimize food waste at an individual level.
Think about it, how common is it for us to stash away our unfinished or overcooked meals in the refrigerator? More often than not, we tend to forget about these half-eaten foods until it's too late. We might be only alarmed when it begins to stink up your fridge and naturally our following instinct would be to get rid of these items without any further inspection. Such is the cycle of food wastage that we are all familiar with but at the same time, we are not very aware of the negative consequences of our habitual negligence of food.
According to the World Food Programme, nearly one-third of all food produced every year is wasted - that's about 1.3 billion tons per year, costing approximately US$1 trillion. All the food that is produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people annually - more than twice the number of undernourished people worldwide, saving countless lives in the process.
To put it simply - food waste is food that is fit for consumption but is not eaten. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “Food waste refers to 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 loss happens to be the leading cause of hunger worldwide. But add to this, food wastage is as much a humanitarian issue as it is an environmental one.
To put the plight of food wastage into perspective, visualize a rather unpleasant image of all of the world’s landfills amassed together to be made into a country of its own. In that case, the landmass would possibly be greater than that of China. Try wrapping your head around that! Food waste is responsible for generating a sizable 8 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions including methane which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Food is wasted all along the production to consumption spectrum at different stages. This amounts to enormous losses of water and energy. For example, it takes an estimated 4 gallons of water to prepare one loaf of bread and 2 gallons to rear one chicken breast. The machines that perform these tasks, as well as the logistics, also use high amounts of energy and fuel.
The human population will keep skyrocketing in the coming decades, and if we keep up with the same habits, the population of people succumbing to hunger will also multiply. At all levels, we should therefore be dedicated to minimizing wastage and feeding more people at the same time. To follow through on this, the UN has set a goal to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses alongside production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” in its Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Food waste does not solely take place in kitchens. Due to poor storage conditions, lack of technology, and lack of sufficient transport facilities, among other things, a lot of food is also discarded post-harvest in many developing countries like India and China. While the developing countries face higher levels of food wastage in post-harvest losses, developed countries like the United States, Germany, and France see high levels of food wastage at the consumer end.
In the United States, around 1 pound of food per person per day is wasted, which is around 103 million tons every year in the US alone.
As food wastage has increased at an alarming rate, companies have started developing various measures to combat it. Smart AI sensors developed by Winnow attached to bins help analyze the amount of food wastes in commercial kitchens. Multiple startups like Martie, By Ruby and Odd Box also take an environment first approach when it comes to food production and distribution. Martie sells pantry staples at higher discount rates to prevent them from getting wasted, By Ruby prepares frozen foods made wholly from local ingredients, and OddBox delivers surplus produce leftovers from local farmers. Odd Food and Deja Pets make sustainably and cleanly sourced pet-food from food surplus or wastes, initially meant for humans.
Interestingly, research shows that people in the age group 18-34 waste more food as compared to people of other ages. The main reason for food wastage among this demographic is usually that they ‘did not like the food’ or ‘could not finish the food’. This may not be much of a surprise seeing that people of the abovementioned age group either lack the skills or time to prepare meals regularly. Moreover, inexperienced cooks do not have the know-how to cook adequately. They usually overshoot the quantity at every second attempt at cooking, causing more food to be wasted. We at Nymble have designed a kitchen robot that can cook dishes autonomously for you based on your appetite and diet, and is capable of cooking 500+ recipes. This robot can help you cook sustainably and minimize organic waste in your kitchens by helping you use the ingredients you have stocked in your pantries, to the fullest.
To combat food waste at a personal level, consumers can begin by weighing their food choices sustainably. Plan your meals, make a shopping list and stick to it! Avoid impulse buying.
Do understand that ‘best before’ is not the same as ‘use by'. This will let you know if the food is fit or unfit for consumption, rather than throwing it out prematurely.
Don’t discriminate against oddly-shaped and discolored-looking fruits. Sure, they may not taste as great as fresh ones but still can be used to make smoothies, juices, and desserts.
Store foods smartly at home. Keep older items to the front of the refrigerator, so that they are picked and consumed before they go bad. Use airtight containers and zip-lock bags to store spices and other ingredients in your pantries.
Consider Composting. Even after all necessary considerations, some food in your fridges and pantries will go bad. But, instead of throwing them away, why not compost them? This way you will be giving back nutrients to the soil and reduce your carbon footprint actively. You can compost kitchen waste in your backyard or even indoors. All you need is a compost bin, brown and green leaves to prepare your compost heap before you add the food wastes into it.
Consider adopting a plant-based diet. Vegetables, fruits, and pulses take less water to be harvested than it does to produce animal products. Read more about it on our blogpost - 11 Tips For Eating Better: The Only Vegan Guide You Will Ever Need.
Support local food producers and businesses. By buying local produce, you will be supporting farmers and small food businesses in the community while reducing pollution caused by long-distance food deliveries. Try to orchestrate a community-driven approach to cut down food wastage in your neighborhood. You can organize events to promote food-saving. Think of juice or salad stalls made entirely from leftovers and food donation drives for the underprivileged.
It is the need of the hour to find practical solutions at a personal and public level to reduce food loss and to ensure there are sustainable food systems in place. Making the best possible use of leftovers and donating all the food that isn't consumed should be a priority in homes. Preventing food wastage at all fronts is the only realistic measure we should collectively take to work towards solving the crisis of world hunger.