Nowadays, food waste is one of the biggest environmental issues in the world. According to research, we waste a third of all the food we produce globally. The situation in America is even worse, as reports show that food waste in the US exceeds 40%. With the way things seem to be unfolding, it doesn’t look like the problem will be solved soon.
But why is food waste such a big issue in the first place, and what other problems does it lead to? And, finally, how do we make sure we reduce it? Read on to find out as we try to break it all down into understandable and sensible pieces.
The Impact of Food Waste
Food waste affects various aspects of our lives. Apart from the obvious economic losses it causes, it also negatively affects our ecosystem and is one of the main roots of climate change.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a family of four loses around $1,800 every year by throwing away a quarter of their food. The total annual loss caused by food waste is around $240 billion, which is a staggering number. Studies show that wealthier families waste more food than those that are less well-off, but even they waste around 10% of the food they buy.
It is important to note that a big portion of the $280 billion deficit comes from the food industry itself and not the consumers. A lot of food gets thrown away before it even reaches grocery stores and buyers. It usually spoils before reaching its destination, and then it gets incinerated and ends up in a landfill. Some food might even get thrown away because it has an imperfect shape or some blemishes that make it undesirable.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans don’t have enough access to fresh and healthy food at all. It is clear that something needs to change such a striking disbalance.
Aside from costing a lot of money, food waste also increases carbon emissions and thus aids global warming. When we throw away food, it usually goes into landfills. As the food in the landfills rots, it emits huge amounts of methane, a gas that is around 23% more powerful and harmful than CO2. Methane traps heat in the atmosphere and thus increases the temperature of the air. So, it is directly responsible for global warming.
Food waste accounts for approximately 25% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. We’ll try to put things into perspective. If food waste was a country, it would rank third in the world in terms of carbon emission, only behind China and the US. Research points to the fact that putting a stop to food waste would equal removing one-quarter of all cars off the roads.
Since food needs to be produced in excess amounts because of demand, we need to use a lot of natural resources. These resources include water and land, among other things.
Food waste is one of the biggest causes of cutting down forests, as we are running out of landfill space fast. Also, a lot of water goes into the production of different foods. For example, by throwing out 1 pound of meat, we also waste around 50,000 liters of water that we used to produce it.
How Can We Solve the Problem of Food Waste?
As you have read above, reducing food waste needs to be one of our main priorities. In order for it to be successful, change needs to happen both on the level of the individual and on the level of society as a whole.
To limit food waste, we need to start making lists of the food we truly need and sticking to them. That way, we won’t buy too much food and won’t throw anything away. Also, we can make food last longer by keeping it in freezers until we need it.
Donating food is another practice many people should adopt. While certain families throw away several pounds of food every week, others can’t even afford to buy minimal amounts of food. The redistribution and sharing of food would be a win-win situation for everyone. Wealthy families would not have a problem with waste, while those less well-off would have access to more healthy food.
But the biggest change needs to happen on the level of the government and the law. New policies on harvesting, processing, transporting, and retailing of food are necessary.
Changing the rules on esthetic requirements that food needs to fulfill is the most important step we need to take. By doing so, we will reduce the waste of fruit and vegetables that are deemed as “ugly.” Those products then won’t be thrown away.
Finally, educating farmers and others who produce food on the way the market works is also quite important. That way, everyone will be up to date with its needs, and planning the production will be easier.
Food waste is one of the main issues our society has ever faced. Not only does it negatively affect the economy, but it also harms the environment and aids global warming.
To make a real difference, we need to change our buying habits and learn about how we can share food. Additionally, governments, as well as retailers and farmers need to implement new laws to help the situation on a bigger scale. Only then will we have a real chance of reducing food waste and thus preserving our planet.