In a world where famine and hunger are a daily battle for millions of people, the need to reduce food waste, and indeed the concept of food waste, can be difficult to comprehend.
However the statistics on the volumes of food wasted are alarming.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries (source).
Social, humanitarian and financial impacts aside, food waste is a considerable global environmental issue. The impact of food waste on climate change alone is so significant that reducing food waste has recently been listed within the top 5 solutions for climate change by a leading environmental researcher (more on this below).
In this post, I unpack the issue of food waste and discuss how it’s generated, the impact of food waste on the environment, and simple measures you can take to reduce food waste in your home.
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What Is Food Waste?
Food waste is food that is lost or discarded uneaten.
It includes food that is spilled or spoilt before it reaches its final product or retail stage (i.e. food loss) and food that is fit for human consumption, but is not consumed because it is left to spoil or is discarded by retailers or consumers (food waste).
Harvested apples that fall off a delivery truck for example, are considered food loss. A box of oversized or blemished apples thrown away by a store, on the other hand, is classified as food waste.
What Causes Food Waste?
The causes of food waste are numerous, and occur at the stages of production, processing, retailing and consumption.
Production – poor or failed crops, harvesting or pest control issues
Processing – storage and cooling facilities, packing and transport issues
Retailing – retailer cosmetic standards, infrastructure or market / price mechanisms, institutional and legal frameworks.
Consumption – oversupply of food at the restaurant or household level.
How Much Food Is Wasted Globally?
The statistics and facts on food waste are alarming.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
- Fruit and vegetables (along with roots and tubers) have the highest wastage rates of any food products at 45%.
- 35% of processed fish and seafood are wasted.
- In industrialized countries (namely Europe, Nth America, Oceania, Industrialized Asia) consumers throw away 286 million tonnes of cereal products a year (i.e. 30% of total cereal production).
- Every year, consumers in rich, industrialized countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- In developing countries, 40% of losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques, as well as storage and cooling facilities.
- In industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels, mainly due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance (i.e. cosmetic standards).
- Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world (source).
It’s fair to say that in the industrialized world, food waste is a by-product of our affluent and time-poor society.
Australians reportedly toss up to 30 percent of the food they purchase; a staggering 315 kilograms of food per household each year at a cost of just over $1,000! (source)
Can you imagine going to the supermarket and buying three bags of food, only to leave one behind on the counter? That’s what’s basically happening each week in the average Australian (and US, UK and NZ) home. We’re only eating two of the three bags of food we’re buying.
What Is The Environmental Impact of Food Waste?
Social, humanitarian and financial impacts aside, food waste is a considerable global environmental issue.
Every time we throw food in the bin we’re not just wasting our money. We’re discarding the vast amounts of resources, energy and water that it took to produce, process, store, refrigerate, transport and cook the food. If that’s not bad enough, rotting food in landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is particularly damaging to our environment.
In fact, the impact on climate change is so significant that reducing food waste has been listed within the top 5 solutions for climate change in Paul Hawken’s new book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.”
Together with a team of several dozen research scientists, Hawken mapped, measured and modelled the 100 most substantive solutions to climate change, using only peer-reviewed research.
The impact on climate change by reducing food waste alone, is reported by Hawken to beat solar farms and rooftop solar combined!!
So, there you have it! If you’ve ever doubted that you can make a difference… reduce food waste to help address the biggest environmental issue of our generation, climate change!
How To Reduce Food Waste in The Home
1. Plan Your Meals and Shop To Plan
Meal planning is the critical ingredient to reduce food waste in your home. I find that by planning each meal for the week ahead, I’m less likely to buy too much food in the first place. Meals out and leftover meals are also included in my meal plan to further keep my food purchasing in check.
2. Keep stock of your stock
When unpacking food and groceries, move older products to the front of your pantry, fridge and freezer and place new products towards the back to help you use up food before it expires. If you have trouble keeping track of your food stocks, develop a labelling system or place a list of contents and date to consume by on the door.
3. Storage is vital
Living for several years in North Queensland taught me everything I know about food storage. I learnt the hard way that if I didn’t store my food correctly, weevils would hatch in my flour and ants would invade anything that wasn’t correctly sealed.
If you’re regularly dealing with pest problems or throwing away stale biscuits and cereals, I highly recommend investing in quality, air tight containers to store your food. Repurposing glass jars is an inexpensive way to achieve this if the designer pantry storage system isn’t within your budget.
4. Check your fridge and freezer settings
Fridges and freezers not running at maximum efficiency, cost higher to run and can spoil your food. Ensure the temperature of your fridge is set between 3 and 5 °C and between -15 and -18°C for the freezer. You can easily check your seals by closing a money note in the door. If it falls or slips out too easily you could be losing valuable cool air.
5. Don’t be overzealous with the veggie peeler
Do you really need to peel your carrots, spuds and cucumbers? More often than not the skin on our fruit and veg is nutrient rich and full of fibre. I’m not expecting everyone to enjoy eating furry kiwi fruit, but just be mindful of the quantity of fruit and vegetables you discard before you even start preparing meals.
If your produce isn’t organic and you’re concerned about toxins on fresh produce, here’s five ways to remove chemical residues from fruit and vegetables.
6. Think before you throw
Too often we tend to throw out food that, while not in our ideal form, could easily be transformed into something more appealing. Broccoli stalks are a perfect example. They add bulk to stir-fries and soups and are great at absorbing the flavour of dishes. They can also easily be frozen for when you get around to making some vegetable stock.
Overripe bananas make the best banana bread, cakes and smoothies. Wilted vegies are perfect for stock or vegetable soup, and stale bread and lonely crusts make the best breadcrumbs for rissoles or schnitzels. Simply whiz them in your food processor, dry in low oven or food dehydrator and store in an air tight container when cool.
7. Learn the art of preserving and dehydrating
Before the days of refrigeration, preserving food was a common occurrence throughout the world to ensure adequate food supplies all year round. Preserving food is still a fantastic way to stretch your budget, help the environment and live a healthier life all at the same time. If you’re lucky enough to receive a box of fresh produce such as apricots or tomatoes from a friend’s garden, preserve or dehydrate them to enjoy for months to come.
8. Love Your Leftovers
Leftovers are great for meals where you’re short of time and they can also become the base for an entirely new dish. Boiled rice can easily be turned into fried rice or rice puddings and excess pasta is great in mornays or bakes. Even roast vegetables can be turned into a delicious frittata or bubble and squeak.
9. Use Your Senses
I’m sure my household isn’t the only one where milkshakes are on the menu the day the milk expires. Of course it’s great to exercise caution when it comes to food safety, but in many cases, expiration dates on foods are just as much about manufacturer’s recommendations for peak quality as they are for food safety. If stored correctly, most foods (including meat and dairy) will stay fresh several days past their “Use By” date. If the food looks, smells and tastes okay, chances are it is fine.
10. Give Waste Another Life
Some of the foods we throw can easily be used again. For example, I always reuse chicken carcasses from a steamed or roasted chook to make stock. Onion and garlic skins can even be added to stock to enhance the flavour.
Despite your best efforts, there will be occasions where you need to throw out food and for this I recommend chickens, composting or even a worm farm. Our backyard chickens thrive on the cast offs from my boy’s meals and in return keep us in full supply of eggs.
How To Reduce Food Waste When Eating Out
11. Portion Control
To avoid situations where your eyes are bigger than your belly, dish up servings on a smaller plate. When eating out, order entrée sized meals or split dishes with a friend or your partner to avoid tossing half of the giant portion found in many restaurants. As for smorgasbords ….. Don’t. Even. Go. There.
12. Doggie Bag
Where restaurants allow, take home excess meals in a “doggie bag”.
How To Reduce Food Waste When Shopping
13. Shop At Independent Stores Or Farmers Markets
Shop at markets and independent retailers where strict cosmetic standards for fresh produce don’t apply. Alternatively, have a go at growing some of your own fruits, herbs and vegetables in your garden!
Don’t know where to start in the garden? Reserve your seat at my live training How to Grow an Organic Vegetable Garden in 12 weeks: the Simple Planning Tricks that Boost your Gardening Success.
How To Reduce Food Waste At A Bigger Level
14. Become Part Of The Change
Get involved in championing to reduce food waste in your local or regional communities.
- Sign the online petition for supermarkets to reduce cosmetic standards
- Support Ozharvest in their efforts to reduce food waste. If you live in Sydney, consider shopping in their new supermarket in Kensington that sells only rescued food!
Food waste is a considerable environmental and social issue and change starts in the home. Luckily, being able to reduce food waste is not as hard as you may think and with a little extra organisation and planning, a smelly rubbish bin will become a thing of the past in your household.
If it is important to you to reduce food waste in your home, join Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs for ongoing support and tips to create a healthy, waste-free, sustainable home.