Everybody does it.
Some confess it.
But only a few want to change it.
People in Africa do it the least.
On the average, Europeans and Americans are the leaders in waste production.
But food waste should concern everyone.
Let me tell you why.
How big is the problem of food waste?
We are wasting on average at least ⅓ of our food. In the US it’s even 40%. That is a waste of 180 kg per person and half a kilo per day, per person. In other words: Each month we are throwing 50 Euro into the trash!
At the same time more than 815 million people are starving worldwide. Europe alone could feed 200 million people with its surplus of food.
According to a study provided by the WWF 2.6 million acres of land are cultivated in vain. Approximately 48 million tons of greenhouse gasses are produced by that.
All of these groceries need energy, fields, water, time, fuel, natural and human resources and money in order to be produced, carried, processed, packaged, stored, sold, carried again, and eventually stored at home. And all of those resources are going to waste.
And that’s how it looks.
What exactly does food waste mean?
To understand how food waste occurs it’s necessary to define it first.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), two areas of food waste are to be recognized: food losses and food waste.
Food losses is referring to groceries that are harmed due to transportation or that are already spoiled before reaching the market. Examples can be carrots that fall off the truck after being harvested or bananas that are crushed in their boxes and or while packaging.
Food waste, on the other hand, affects foods that would still be easily consumed, but are thrown away for aesthetic reasons.
For example a shriveled roll from the day before, the slightly spotty banana or flaccid lettuce. This applies both to commerce as well as for households.
What makes it even more complicated are certain misunderstandings.
Best-before date, use-by date and the expiration date once and for all explained
While foods have a specific use-by date or expiration date they should actually be consumed by that time. There is no health risk to consume foods soon after the best-before date has expired.
However, food waste also results by storing food incorrectly, by buying groceries beyond measure, or preparing too much food for one dish.
But not only battered foods have a hard time making it to the table. Even completely fresh fruits and vegetables don’t make it to the shelves of supermarkets if shape or color are not “consumer friendly”. We became accustomed to the perfect gold-yellow banana and the fairytale red, crisp apple from advertising as the norm, so we just leave food that deviates from this norm.
That means: If the cucumber is more curved than usual, if the carrot is unusually formed or the apple has specks (these are the small brown, usually slightly lignified points that do not affect the consumption), then they will most likely go straight to the garbage.
Who are the biggest food wasters?
Food losses occur at every step of the producer chain: from seed to harvest to the dining table.
But why is waste already happening during sowing?
First, you have to know how a farmer works.
According to demand he plans the number of plants to be sown.
Since he, as a producer, needs to fulfill his obligations with his commercial consumers, he is forced to deliver. It does not matter if he has crop failures or not. That leaves him with only two options:
- To avoid possible crop failures he has to do additional purchases from other producers in order to avoid penalties by his commercial consumers.
- He grows more than he actually has to harvest. As long as this option seems more cost-effective, overproduction will always prevail even from the moment of sowing.
If the harvest is higher than expected, ripe fruits often remain directly on the field. They won’t be harvested in order to not affect food prices negatively or because harvesting would be more expensive than the income generated by crop sales.
The problem is caused through the set system of production and purchase.
According to the European Environment Agency, 39% of foods are being disposed of during the manufacturing process.
These include animal carcasses, bones and other byproducts, but also rejects, damaged products and overproduction. There would clearly be potential savings here.
The next sector is wholesale and retail. It “only” accounts for 5% of the waste. Reasons being changing of temperature during storage and defects in the packaging. Some of the food is thrown away for aesthetic or overproduction reasons which is particularly shocking. It could be avoided by more tolerant consumers and better planning by the providers.
Catering Industry represents 15% of the food wasters. Reasons are mainly to be found in miscalculation of expected clients, but also due to oversized portions so that customers leave left-overs which end up in the garbage later.
Although in perfect condition, even bakeries are throwing away many of their still fresh and tasty specialities at the end of the day.
That would not be necessary if employees were allowed to take away leftovers or surpluses were sold to customers shortly before closing time.
Helpful countermeasures are food rescue initiatives, such as our App, FairMeals.
By far the biggest food waster nonetheless is the consumer.
There are plenty of reasons for the squandering:
- buy too many groceries for normal consumption
- store their stocks improperly
- mix up products and therefore throw them away later
- prepare oversized portions
- throw away unused leftovers
- don’t discern between best-before-date and exp.-date
- throw away newly tried foods that are found to be incompatible with their palate
These are many losses, which could be prevented by better calculation, planning and education. Parts of the waste, e.g. discarded product parts such as peels, bread crusts or fat margins are more difficult to reduce. However, this is mainly due to cherished habits and convenience.
How do we get to the roots of food waste?
Bucking the trend of inflation in the global north, over the past 60 years, food has been gradually cheapened. While food consumption was estimated at around 30% of income in the 1950s, today it is below 10%.
One reason for this development is globalization. It became easier and cheaper to import so-called primary goods from countries of the global South.
While in the 1950s and 1960s, most of our food was produced and consumed in Europe, nowadays food from Africa, South America or Australia is part of the average European shopping basket.
The consumers’ behavior has changed a lot. The palate of many Europeans has become more spoiled and expects tropical fruits in winter. At the same time, many are unwilling to pay a higher price for it. Others only want the best meat and cultivate their culinary experiences continuously by using new types of fruits, dishes or spices. This only works if the offer is expanded with every new and previously unknown produce from more and more distant countries.
When these ingredients end up in the trash, it has a much stronger effect than it did 60 years ago. In addition to the environmental impact it used to have at that time, like the production of Methane gas due to food rot, today we see new environmental strains due to the wide delivery routes:
Rain forests are cut down in the country of origin to make room for more crop lands. Pesticides and fertilizers pollute crops and soil to increase yields of the crop. Oil and gas are needed for transport. Energy has to be produced for continuous cooling along the path.
On the other hand, the average consumer demands perfect size and shape for his standard products like fruit and vegetables. If individual fruits lose their perfect shape, they lose their place on the shelves and end up in bio incineration plants, which demand extra energy input.
Due to high purchase quantity and market power many European food stakeholders enforce artificially low prices on their contractors of the Global South. In that way western consumers continuously have access to prices they consider as “normal”.
Price shifts concurring with a declining appreciation of foods in our society are most visible to the consumer on a stick of butter and a bottle of beer.
While in 1960 one had to work 38 minutes to buy a stick of butter, in 1991 only 6 minutes and 2013 only 5 minutes of work was necessary. Although butter was recently considered to be more expensive, especially in the years 2016/17, when the price almost doubled compared to the years before, as measured by the purchasing power, there has been almost no difference.
There has been, however, a positive side of the recent increase of price peak: The well-known butter mountains that made headlines a few years ago, are no more. The warehouses are empty, so that temporary fluctuations in milk production can no longer be compensated. Another advantage: After the last barren years, dairies can expect stable revenues.
With beer, there are similar figures: In 1960, an average worker had to work 15 minutes, before he could enjoy a nice pint of lager. In 1991 and 2013, one only needed to endure 3 minutes.
However, food waste also occurs where the crops are grown for biofuels for conversion to bio-gas or for large quantities of silage instead of foods. In some parts of the world, competition between food and energy fuels has been severely derailed, providing tremendous benefits to speculators and agribusiness.
Another reason for a world-wide increase in food waste are legal regulations and standards. Unification in shape and size above all, help the industry to transport and store large quantities of goods. Rather than having to create more flexible storage and transport logistics for non-standardized food sizes, it is cheaper to destroy them. Again, the cost factor plays a crucial role.
The reasons for food waste in the last half-century are manifold. In the Global North, so far, we have been spared from major effects and consequences. Mainly emerging economies had to carry the big burden of our wasteful use of natural resources. If we eventually want to take responsibility and no longer close our eyes to the devastating effects of food waste, we need to ask ourselves this question:
What effects does food waste have today?
The waste of food and other resources is causing global negative feedback effects in various areas.
On the one hand, the poor part of the world population suffers like e.g. small farmers in developing and emerging countries.
The rising demand for staple foods in industrialized countries was driven mainly by the increased demand for energy sources for the operation of biogas plants. As a result, prices were raised enormously in recent years. Grain prices alone increased by 200% within a few years.
This has a life-threatening effect on the rural population of many emerging economies. The vast majority of the population can no longer supply itself with staple foods such as corn, rice and wheat.
In addition, it’s artificially created price pressures of European subsidized goods is causing declining yields for small farmers in the southern hemisphere. They only receive dumping prices for the crop they produce.
Furthermore, the worldwide focus on biogas-relevant energy sources such as soybeans, led to the long-term breeding of monocultures. As a result, agricultural soils have become almost infertile so that their ability to produce decreases steadily and is resulting in lowering yields. To compensate for this, smallholders are forced to use strong pesticides and fertilizers. As a consequence the local groundwater is stressed beyond measure and partly contaminated. Especially in rural areas with a continuous shortage of drinking water, the spiral of poverty is thus further stimulated.
To continue, food waste has effects along its path. In addition to huge quantities of water needed to produce food, other scarce resources are needed for transportation and cooling. Their acquisition and usage have a strong impact on the climate. Conversely, progressive climate changes are leading to an increasing amount of unpredictable crop failures due to droughts or floods. And that brings us back to the beginning.
In times of a globalized world, the effects of this negative behavior towards nature and populations concerning their drinking water and food supply, this will hit home soon in the industrialized countries, if we don’t start changing our thinking and actions.
Which approaches exist to end food waste?
Motivated by economical savings
A strong motivation for all stakeholders is savings. Waste of food from agricultural production amounts to $ 750 billion a year. This corresponds to the gross domestic product of Switzerland. Those foods are being composted only due to their shape, color or other external characteristics, they do not fit into the consumer or dealer scheme of things.
If these foods would be harvested, billions of dollars could be earned.
Creation of secondary markets
By transportation and storage, more costs for those foods are incurring, which might go from their destined retailer or market directly into landfills just because they are chipped or have stains. If there would be secondary markets available to offer food for lower incomes, additional sales could be generated.
Laws, as recently enacted in France, can be helpful to enforce change and to convince retailers and restaurants to further utilize their edible food.
Creating consciousness in the population
Often, out of ignorance, the biggest spender is the consumer. If we would succeed in creating an awareness of which foods are suitable for consumption and when they expire, we would create a high potential for savings.
Encourage discussion about disposal costs
Not only does every German citizen voluntarily “throw away” 50 euros per year for unused food “into the landfills”. They also pay additionally about 235 Euros per household for its disposal.
Discussing environmental damage
In addition to the already mentioned environmental damage due to water and resource consumption of unused food and the released greenhouse gases that arise due to the rotting of wasted food, there is yet another problem.
Due to their high water content, biowaste usually contains a low amount of heating energy. This greatly influences the heating value of the waste and thus the energy efficiency of the incinerators.
How can you help to reduce food waste?
Almost in every comprehensive approach the consumer – that’s you – has a definite say.
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Sources : http://www.umwelt-im-unterricht.de/hintergrund/ursachen-und-folgen-von-lebensmittelverschwendung/