When we think of factors that harm the planet, cars, oil spills, power plants, and maybe even CO2 emissions from cows come to our mind. It seems obvious that these aspects speed up the process of global warming. But there is another, often overlooked cause that we should all be concerned about: food waste.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 6.7% of all global greenhouse gases come from food wastage.
Doesn’t sound like much? Imagine this:
If food waste were a country, it would be the number 3 emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, right after China and the United States!
We overlook, ignore and don’t pay enough attention to the negative impacts. It’s time to raise awareness before it’s too late.
The Biggest Food Wasters
It’s easy to point a finger at others, blaming restaurants and farms, but just take a moment to realize that there are three other fingers pointing at yourself. We, the consumers, have the power to make a change. Our impact is greater than we think.
My sister spent a few months on a small farm, just an hour out of Perth. ‘It was a little orange farm in the middle of nowhere, the first time I worked as a fruit picker.’ She remembers, ‘The first days were not easy. The sun was either burning or rain was pouring down heavily, it didn’t matter, we had to clear the trees of every single fruit. After eight hours of hard work, 8 bins, the size of big dining room tables, had to be filled.’ Her features clouded with anger, ‘1/3 of the oranges went straight to the garbage!’ This waste of food occurs even before we have the chance to buy it. In fact, almost half of all vegetables and fruits produced go, just like the oranges, straight to the garbage (I’ll talk about the reason for this later on in the article).
I have worked in several restaurants and the amount of perfectly edible food I’ve seen landing in the garbage has been extreme. But surprisingly, restaurants are not the number 1 food wasters. While 40% of waste occurs here, it is still less than in our homes. However, this waste costs the American industries alone 57$ billion annually.
We, at home, waste the most food of all. 43% of food waste occurs in our own four walls! While it has a massive impact on the environment, our wallets also suffer: According to Selina Jull, a typical European household loses 900€ per year on wasted food and a US household over 1000$.
What Damage Do We Cause by Wasting Food?
While different types of damage are caused when we throw away immense amounts of food, there are two points I would like to highlight.
Two facts stand out when looking at the world’s population.
- 3 metric giga-tons of edible food are wasted each year.
- At least 795 million people suffer from hunger.
So while 1 out of 9 people in the world are undernourished, we continue to waste food on a large scale.
The connection between those in need, and those that have too much, seems to be missing completely. There is an obvious distribution problem but luckily, companies such as copia are attempting to help us and make it easier for us to tackle the issue.
But the damage goes even beyond hunger and starvation:
we damage our planet in ways that cannot be reversed. The climate pollution caused by food waste is explained easily. Let’s just picture our typical Saturday supermarket stroll.
We’ve worked through most of the list. Next stop, bananas. Three, four? Maybe just a dozen, they’re on special and they’ll get eaten eventually, right? Into the basked they go.
But hold on.
What is needed to produce them?
Land, water, hard work, time and other resources.
How do they get to the supermarket?
Depending on where they are from, they have probably travelled more kilometers than we have in the past year.
And what about the 3 left over bananas ?
Turns out, 12 bananas were too many. Three of them end up on the counter, slowly but surely turning into brown mush. The thing is, they produce methane, which is 25 times more aggressive than carbon dioxide. What actually happens here is that the gas absorbs the heat of the sun, thus heating up the entire atmosphere – simply said: it speeds up global warming.
How Can We Waste Less Food?
The damage we are causing is extreme. But luckily, food waste is a problem that is comparatively easy to tackle for each one of us.
1. Know The Labels
Shockingly, 90% of America’s food waste is due to confusion about products’ expiry date. So here is a little reminder:
Best Before: This is NOT when you should toss food away. Until this day, the producer guaranties highest quality. After that, it’s up to you to decide whether a product is still enjoyable.
Use By: You should eat it before this date! After, the consumption is no longer advisable due to health risks.
2. Conquer Fridge Confusion
We often don’t know what’s in the mysterious depths of our fridge. Try to stay on top of it. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you’ve probably heard of the FIFO rule. First in, first out. It’s a simple food rotation system: label your food products with dates and store the older items in front (what went in first, will go out first). Don’t let that good piece of cheese disappear into the dark corners of your fridge where you’ll forget it and eventually toss it into the bin.
3. Susceptible in Supermarkets
I do this all the time – I go to the supermarket with no list, an empty stomach and am susceptible to every special. The result? A basket full of things I like to eat BUT which will definitely not add up to a proper meal .Also, I simply buy way too much. We should all try to shop in a smarter way. How? With a meal plan for the week, a shopping list and definitely a full stomach.
4. The Odd Bunch
When my sister told me about all the oranges that landed in the bin, the main reason was that they weren’t good enough for the market – too small, too big or not perfectly round.
Many supermarkets in Australia are now offering the “odd bunch” at lower prices. It is a bunch of imperfectly formed fruits and vegetables -the ones that should have e landed in the garbage, according to the guidelines.
We should support this, show some love for the odd bunches in the supermarkets and see if our local farmers have some odd bunches ‘to waste’. (We can save money AND contribute to reducing food waste.)
What Will You Change?
Food waste is destroying our planet. It is clear that a change needs to happen. Each one of us is part of the problem and can be part of the solution. I hope you will keep some of these things in mind when you go shopping the next time, when you go through your cluttered fridge and when you toss those brown bananas in the bin.
The damage is done, but it is not too late to turn things around.
We can change the world
We can fight hunger and slow down global warming.
We can stop wasting food.