Updated: Nov 13, 2020
(when “dollars” is mentioned, it is US dollars)
When I was younger, I remember the idea of wasting food was a selfish thing to do because some people couldn't feed themselves. The subject of food waste is growing in popularity, as scientists and environmental activists discuss frequently on the subject, but I feel as though we don’t always explain why this is such a big issue in every way.
Although we don’t talk about it as much now as we did a decade ago, more people every year are suffering from starvation, even more today due to the pandemic crisis. The United Nations counts about 870 million people in precarious food situation. When looking at the food production in the world a third of it is wasted. If food was properly distributed, we could end hunger in the world 4 whole times. Imagine that. If we could work together it sure would be a nice and pretty world.
Environmentally speaking we have multiple issues. When considering waste, we have to consider all of the resources used to create the food that will uselessly end up in our garbage.
That’s almost a third of all agricultural lands used pointlessly every year.
That’s one quarter of our global fresh water supply wasted.
That’s all the fuel used to grow and transport the said produce uselessly used .
One fact that I didn’t entirely grasp until recently is the fact that thrown out food pollutes a lot.
When food is wasted it’s buried in landfills. Although you might think ‘hey it’s organic it won’t pollute much’, that’s very false. When food is buried it creates more heat than carbon dioxide (heat = very bad for the environment).
If food waste was a country its carbon footprint would be the third highest in the world, just after the United States and China.
If neither the social or environmental issues disturb you more than that maybe the economic impact will. I won’t judge you, I am a business student myself.
If we had to give a value to all the food wasted, it would sum up to about 2.3 trillion of dollars every year. That’s higher than Italy’s GDP (2018). As a country it would rank 8th GDP wise, right after France.
That might start to upset the capitalist in you.
We may now ask ourselves: If it's so bad in every way, why is there food waste? Is someone profiting from it?
We need to differentiate two things : food loss and food waste.
Food loss occurs in the first half of the supply chain process, it's during harvest or on its route to our wholesalers. This is caused by harvest, transportation and storage. Most of this food is inevitably lost, especially for us as consumers there's little we can control there.
Food waste is entirely wholesalers and consumers' responsibility, and it's, for the great majority, avoidable.
Where does it come from?
There's a big misconception that all food waste is food that has gone bad The sad reality is that we live in a society in which we always expect the freshest, prettiest things. Have you noticed that all your vegetables are physically mostly perfect? If we lived in a perfect world there would be exactly the amount of products needed in supermarkets. Have you ever seen half empty shelves (other than during the panic buying corona period)? Supermarkets over-order and over-store products.
For the fresh products, such as fruits and vegetables, they're discarded if ever they're not physically appealing, or just haven't been bought in a day or two of being put out for sale. All that comestible food ends up polluting landfills.
That's not it though.
Even canned and dry food end up thrown out before their expiry date. Wholesalers order regularly products, if they're not sold before the arrival of the next stock they will end up in the garbage. Thank mass consumption and production for that.
Supermarkets aren't the only ones to blame.
When we go to the supermarket we tend to go for the pretty tomatoes, and the furthest expiry date. We are playing a determining role in this issue, and by 'we' I mean the western countries. Although food is wasted worldwide, the majority of the waste is food loss in developing countries while there's a a majority of food waste in western countries.
In developing countries there are 460kg of food produced per consumer per year, while in contrast there are 900kg of food produced per consumer in western countries.
Do we really need that much more food? Of course not, especially when on average a Canadian household wastes 170kg of food per year (that's worth around 1,100$).
So what can we do about it?
Talk about this issue in your social circle. It's essential for our communities to understand that we are playing a role in food waste and that we need to create the change together.
Change your habits. Stop listening to the capitalistic voice in your head telling you to buy too much, and what seems "pretty".
Try to be organized in your leftovers (don't let them go to waste!!).
Inform yourself on what you're buying and where it's coming from.
Simply put : try to eat and shop responsibly.