What is Food Wastage?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), “Food loss refers to a decrease in mass (dry matter) or nutritional value (quality) of food that was originally intended for human consumption, whereas food waste refers to food appropriate for human consumption being discarded. To encompass both food loss and food waste into one term, “food wastage” is used, which basically refers to any food lost by deterioration or waste” [1]. 

Food Wastage

As stated by the first report assessing global food losses by FAO (2011) it is estimated about one-third of the food (1.3 billion tons) produced globally for human consumption is wasted each year at different stages along the food supply chain, which is unquestionably an alarming figure that it is both a threat to food security and to the natural resources that go into the production of these food [2]. Although this is an understated concern that is not usually portrayed in the media, it is causing camouflaged vandalism at a very large scale to Mother Nature, by only taking away from it without returning, contributing to a lot of environmental crisis. This includes the water wasted growing the crops, the fertilizers, and fuels used in production and transportation and the greenhouse gases released when food decomposes in the landfill.

Impacts of Wasting Food

As crazy as it sounds, we waste a huge amount of food every day without even realizing it because the amount wasted at once is not significantly large. This includes the food that goes stale for being preserved for a very long time and even discarding leftovers of a meal and the leftovers on plates when we dine out at a restaurant. If all the amount of food that goes into bin per day can be put together, it would certainly be a staggeringly high figure!

Wasted food has environmental, economic, and social implications [3]. It is estimated that 95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soil [4]. From the perspective of direct destruction of nature, not using roughly one-third of the food produced globally means that our natural resources, including soils and water, are being unnecessarily misused. An estimation shows 28% of the world’s agricultural land produces crops that are wasted along with 250 km3 of water used for irrigation. With the global expansion of world population and climate change, our soils are already under a lot of pressure and this pressure intensifies if such resources go into waste at the end of the day. We cannot afford this loss with already having a decline in the proportion of healthy soils and arable land globally [5]. Biodiversity is also threatened by farming during the production of these foods that are eventually going into waste [1].

Unfortunately, this doesn’t end here with wasting resources from Mother Nature and the sabotage continues. The after-effects of wasting food severely affect the environment as well. The carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated at 3.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent [5]. A large percentage of food waste is organic waste which has environmental impacts. When buried in landfills, organics do not decompose properly in an anaerobic environment creating conditions for bacteria to produce methane gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming [3]. Not to mention, the waste is using up landfills and thus rendering more and more land unusable.

Actions to Be Taken

If this food wastage problem is not addressed anytime soon, it will bear severe consequences leading to food insecurity and even famine in days to come for the whole world. To avoid such calamity, measures have to be taken which should primarily start by raising social awareness. Survey studies should be carried out at the community level to assess food waste foot-prints and food waste behavior like that conducted by Evans, A. et al. (2016) in Edmonton, Alberta [3], which would give a better understanding at why the food is going into waste and the appropriate steps to be taken in accordance to reduce the wastage. These include starting from simple actions such as planning your shopping to avoid the purchase of excessive amounts of food, understanding expiration dates, using leftovers for a future meal or sharing them with the homeless and needy people, making use of avoidable food waste to more hierarchical schemes like composting at a national scale by legislations from the government and establishing a food bank nationally to collect wasted food for stray animals which is a more healthy and hygienic option rather than them eating from the garbage bins. This way we can ultimately return what we are taking from nature back to the earth and somewhat minimize the environmental demolition.

Ensuring a Sustainable Future by Cutting Down Food Wastage

There are 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) agenda to be attained by 2030, which had been proposed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for sustainable development. SDG number 2 aims for a zero hunger world [6], and it’s high time we start ensuring food security for the future world. In a nutshell, one of the major steps in attaining a zero hunger world is going to be by cutting down wastage of valuable food and resources used for its production, therefore guaranteeing promising sustainability of natural resources for future generations. After all, it’s time for nature to rise again!

References

  1. Food and Agriculture Organization. (2013). Food wastage footprint- Impacts on natural resources: Summary Report. ISBN 978-92-5-107752-8
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization. (2011). Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome. ISBN 978-92-5-107205-9
  3. Evans, A. and Siemens, A. (2016). Food Waste Behaviours: Influences and Impacts on Residential Waste and Waste Reduction- A Preliminary Report. University of Alberta
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization. (2015). Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production. 2015- International Year of Soils http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/news/news-detail/en/c/277682/
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization. (2015). Composting: let’s give the soil something back. 2015- International Year of Soils http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/news/news-detail/en/c/280674/

Author:
Oloka Shushupti
Department of Soil, Water, and Environment
University of Dhaka

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