Limit Food Waste
Research has shown that the greater the level of agricultural surplus a society produces, the greater it's level of inequality
Why is it a problem?
Food waste is a global issue. The impact of food waste on our food system is negatively affecting the environment, biodiversity, and natural resources, and has increasing economic and social costs.
Food waste results in the loss, not only of the food itself, but of all the other resources that went into creating it, such as land, water, soil, energy, fuel, packaging, and all the other inputs invested.
Reducing food loss and waste is an urgent and vital step in the process of creating more sustainable food systems. It would bring numerous benefits including addressing food poverty, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting the natural environment, and it would also save a lot of money.
What does food waste have to do with greenhouse gas emissions?
The total amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted throughout the food's life cycle is expressed in CO2 equivalent. This includes all GHGs emitted during production, transportation, processing, distribution, and consumption, as well as the emissions from waste disposal.
The global carbon footprint of food waste alone has been estimated at 4.4 Gtonnes of CO2.
If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter on Earth, after USA and China!
In 2007, 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural land (almost a third (28%) of the world's total agricultural land area) was used to produce food that went to waste. This represents a surface larger than Canada and India together!
Uneaten food is one of several factors that contribute to biodiversity loss through habitat change, over-exploitation, pollution, and climate change. 9.7 million hectares are deforested annually to grow food, representing 74% of total annual deforestation (major contributors to land occupation of food that's wasted are meat and milk- see Why Plant-Based? for more information on the inefficiencies of animal agriculture).
Agriculture accounts for 70% of the global freshwater withdrawal, the remaining 30% is taken for industrial production and domestic water supply. The water footprint of a food product is a measure of all the freshwater used to produce and supply that product to its final consumer, at all stages of the supply chain.
In 2007, the global water footprint for agricultural production was about 250km³. In terms of volume, it represents almost 3 times the volume of Lake Geneva.
Cereals, fruits, and meat are major contributors to the water footprint of wasted food.
Food Security and the social perspective
Nearly 820 million people globally are undernourished and one billion people overfed. Simultaneously, millions of tonnes, or a quarter of the calories intended to feed humans, becomes food loss and waste along the food supply chain. This co-existance of food waste, starvation and malnutrition is one of the greatest paradoxes of our time. The global consensus is that, under current production and consumption trends, global food production will 'need' to increase by 60% by 2050 based on population growth. Lost and wasted food represents a missed opportunity to feed the growing world population. Food waste activists argue that increasing total global food production isn't the answer and call out for more efficient consumption habits.
Food waste is unethical because:
The wasted nutrients could have been used to alleviate hunger problems in poor countries and,
the waste of resources is detrimental to the health of other humans, animals, plants and ecosystems.
Even if just one quarter of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.
A third of the world's entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste – or enough to feed 3 billion people; this would still leave enough surplus for countries to provide their populations with 130 per cent of their nutritional requirements.
The financial perspective
Food waste has significant economic costs, estimated to amount to around 143 billion euros in the EU. This includes costs to producers (who leave produce un-harvested); processors (who discard edible products that do not adhere to market size and aesthetic standards); retailers (who lose products due to spoilage during transport and throw away unsold products); and households (who waste money because of spoilage, lack of knowledge, over-purchase and confusion about best-before and use-by dates.
WRAP reports that in the UK, an average family with children wastes the equivalent of $1,200 CAD every year. In addition to the monetary cost of the food wasted, there are also additional financial costs associated with collecting, managing, and treating the waste.
What can we do?
Minimise the food you dispose of. When waste cannot be prevented, recycled or recovered, it goes to landfill. This has high costs and contributes to GHG emissions, soil depletion and pollution.
Following these simple steps to avoid food waste will make a difference and contribute to fighting climate change.
At the consumer level, the first priority is to prevent food waste that is within our control.
Shop wisely, store smartly and monitor expiry dates.
Plan meals for the week before shopping or only shop as you need it
Tips on shopping wisely:
Pre-shop planning. A meal plan and a shopping list are two of the best tools for reducing food waste.
Buy what you need. Shops have many clever ways of encouraging us to buy more than we've planned. Use a basket or small cart to shop if possible, as the larger the cart the more we're likely to buy. Avoid shopping when you're hungry or thirsty - have a glass of water and a snack before you go out.
If shopping at a Bulk Store you can easily limit the amount of each ingredient you buy. Making a recipe for the first time with a unique and obscure ingredient you've never used before? If you're able to buy it from a bulk store you can buy as little or as much as you need.
Be aware of promotional offers such as 'Buy One, Get One Free' and avoid impulse buys. Avoid check-out buys - these shelves are among the most profitable areas in a shop and where we tend to buy food we really don't need.
Understand expiry dates:
Use-by vs Best-before
The 'best-before' date is an indication of quality. When the dates is passed, it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.
The 'use-by' date is an indication of safety. The product should not be eaten after the date has expired.
As well as these two date marks, you might find a 'display until' or 'sell by' date on some packaging. these are simply means of communication between the manufacturer and the retailer and the information is now often encoded so as not to confuse consumers. In Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer's documentary, 'Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story' (which can be viewed for free on the streaming platform Waterbear), Dana Gunders explains that the confusion around these dates leads to 60% of consumers throwing food away prematurely. And many producers feed this complexity by using quality measures to set the 'use by ' date. For instance, 'use by' dates for vegetables and meats, both highly-perishable products are often set on colour, appearance and odour, all sensory aspects which are usually not directly related to safety.
Manufacturers are risk-averse about date setting because their liability is at stake. They calculate the durability of their products through lab research not only for scenarios in which the product is correctly handled from beginning to end, but also for worst-case scenarios in which they assume everything that could go wrong does go wrong. This results in a buffer of up to 14 days (depending on the product) between date displayed on the packaging and the date when the product will actually be unsafe to eat (or will have lost quality for the 'best before' dates).
To extend the life of food beyond its ‘use by’ date, it is safe to freeze it up to the day before the date and then once defrosted, use it within 24 hours. Imagine a clock counting down to the ‘use by’ date. You can stop the clock as soon as you freeze the food. But you need to start the clock again when you start defrosting. This ensures the overall ‘use by’ date is not exceeded.
Buy local and in season. Food produced and enjoyed locally shortens the supply chain and limits the likelihood of spoilage during transit.
Buy imperfect food (less aesthetically pleasing and nearer to their expiry dates) which is often sold at a discounted price. Purchasing these items signals to retailers that consumers will accept 'imperfect' food. Don't get hung up on aesthetics when shopping for produce. So what if your carrot is wonky or that apple has a bruise on it?? Chop that bruise off and eat the rest of that perfectly fine apple! Then you're only throwing away one tiny bruised off-cut as opposed to an entire apple being thrown away because no-one would buy it. Advocate for a wonky fruit and veg section in your supermarket.
Purchase upcycled food. Try purchasing food items made from upcycled waste from the food system. E.g. Susgrainable, based in Vancouver, who transform beer “waste” into premium baked goods. Find them at the Squamish Farmers' Market and Mount Pleasant Farmers' Markets!
Shop online: Shopping online is not available to everyone but for many it provides a convenient way of avoiding distractions and temptations. It also allows for planning and budgeting. Many supermarkets are offering online shopping these days but there are also exclusively-online grocery stores like Spud.ca. Find out why they claim to be the most sustainable grocery company in Canada here.
Consider reducing your dependence on the supermarket chains. Studies have shown that most of our food is purchased from the major supermarkets, with less bought from smaller stores and farmers' markets. Food waste tends to be highest when people shop exclusively in large supermarkets, decreases when purchasing takes place in small shops and local markets, and is lowest when people also grow their own food. Consumers who buy local vegetables on a regular basis tend to waste significantly less (up to 90%). Home-grown food is less likely to be thrown away because people are more aware of the time and effort that was put into producing it.
Store your fresh produce correctly to prolong their life
Donate food scraps to community organisations, animal shelters and farms
Smart Phone Apps
There are many apps available designed to enable you to find out about food that's available for re-distribution in your community.
Olio is currently online and active in 135 Canadian cities, many of which can be found here in BC!
Olio connects neighbours and local businesses for food sharing. This could be food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from your baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away. In order to make an item available, all that's needed is to add a photo and description and say when and where it's available for pick-up. If you need something, you can browse the listings available near you, request it and arrange a pick-up via private message.
Food Wastage Footprint
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations