10 Ways to Avoid Food Waste
Did you know your food waste contributes to climate change?
In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that one-third (1.3 billion tons) of all the food produced in the world either gets lost or wasted. When food gets lost (mostly during supply chain between the producers and marketers) or wasted (mostly by marketers and consumers), food itself is not the only item that is being wasted. Resources like seeds, water, labor, money, energy, pest control and fertilizers are also wasted. Food loss and waste occur at different stages of supply chain depending on the country. In developing countries, food loss and waste occur mainly in the early stages of food value chain, due to lack of financial, managerial, technical and storage constrains. In medium and high-level income countries food loss and waste occur at later stages in the supply chain. An article published on The New York Times by Somini Sengupta, gives us perfect examples.
Food is too precious in developing countries, so majority of waste and loss happens due to lack of resources and very little is thrown out by consumers. Half of all the cauliflower that’s grown in South Asia is lost because there’s not enough refrigeration, and, lettuce in Southeast Asia spoils on the way from farms to city supermarkets. The case is different in wealthy countries like United States, consumers buy too much and throw it out merely because they cannot finish it. We simply do not value food and resources that are behind the food. However, this does not mean that everyone in the United States has food on the table, let alone food to waste. 41 million Americans are food insecure and 12-13 million children in America face hunger. To make the matter worse, in the United States, 40 percent of all food is wasted, costing us $218 billion. That is an average of $1,800 annually for a household of four. We need to educate ourselves on how we purchase, consume and discard food.
In addition to wasting resources like labor, seeds and fertilizers when we waste food, we are also contributing to climate change. Food waste and loss contributes to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014 FAO reported that the global water footprint of food wastage is equivalent to three times the size of Lake Geneva. Moreover, produced but uneaten food occupies 30% of the world’s agricultural area and “… food wastage unduly compounds the negative externalities that mono-cropping and agriculture expansion into wild areas create on biodiversity loss, including mammals, birds, fish and amphibians” (FAO). The World Economic Forum states that Earth’s 1 billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food wasted in the US and Europe.
All these statistics can be upsetting, frustrating and a lot to take in but there is some encouraging news. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (out of 17) is Responsible Consumption and Production (Number 12). Within this goal the UN looks at food wastage (along with water and energy) and targets (12.3) to “ …halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” by 2030. This without a doubt is a bold target. The UN encourages countries, organizations and individual themselves to help them achieve this goal. Many countries have started initiatives to reduce their food waste by 50% by 2030, including France, Australia, Denmark, South Korea and even the United States (yay!!). France has banned supermarkets from throwing away unsold food and instead is having them donate it, while Australia has invested 1.37 million dollar (AUD) to tackle food waste problem. Denmark has already reduced its food waste by 25% in 5 years and South Korea recycles 95% of its food waste (compared to 2% in 1995). This all shows that changes can be made if the plans are executed properly.
Like many countries, the United States has also set a goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50% (2030 FLW reduction goal). Guided by United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “ …the federal government is seeking to work with communities, organizations and businesses along with [their] partners in state, tribal and local government to reduce food loss and waste…”. With this goal, US government is also looking to feed the hungry, save money for families and businesses and protect the environment. Business and organizations can sign up for Food Recovery Challenge and U.S. Food Waste Challenges. It also encourages individuals and stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers, retailers, transporters, and more to take action.
We are heading towards food crisis as the world’s population will reach 9.8 billion by 2050. With this high population, demand for food will increase by 60% and due to climate change, urbanization, and soil degradation availability of arable land will go down. This is not a pretty image to imagine. There is a lot to be done and FAST as we are almost only a decade away from 2030. Reducing food waste as an individual may be overwhelming but it is never too late to help our government and the UN to achieve their goals. Start small and share your knowledge with others using your platform.
Below are 10 things you can do to reduce food waste:
Plan Smartly: Before you head to the grocery store, look into your fridge and the pantry carefully. Take your time and question yourself. Will the food you already have be enough for the week? Half of the week? Maybe those tomatoes will be sufficient for a few days. If you shop weekly, plan your meals in advance and think about what you will be needing at the store.
Shop Smartly: Once at the store, avoid buying unnecessary food or over buying what you need. Be careful of what you buy food in bulk (as most of us do to save money). Food may not have a long shelf life so you need to consider when you will be consuming that particular food. Maybe you can split that two gallons of milk you bought at Costco with your roommate or neighbors.
Buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables: When it comes to aesthetics of fruits and vegetables people may think the same way as you do. That carrot you picked up and thought was not pretty enough to take home will probably be ignored by other customers and later be thrown away. So, next time take home the ‘ugly’ fruit or vegetable (physically imperfect), it will taste just like the other carrot you thought was perfect.
Take care of your fridge and do not throw away your food: Set your fridge (40ºF or less) and freezer (0ºF) at the right temperature for food safety. Rotate your fridge (and pantry) after shopping, bring older items in the front. Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit, or meat that you know you won’t be able to eat all at once. Ripe fruits and vegetables can be used for many things such as smoothies, casseroles, soups, stir fries and more.
Know your fruits and vegetables: Find out which fruit and vegetable should stay inside the fridge and which should say outside. Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves, and store fruits and vegetables in different bins. Wash berries only before you eat to avoid molding.
Order the right size portions: If you are eating out, order small or perfect size portions. Many entrees will include side dishes so be careful of what you order. If you have left overs, take it home and consume within few days.
Be aware of dates: Learn the difference between sell by, best by and use by and expiration dates. Here are the differences according to the USDA:
"Best if Used By/Before" date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
"Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
“Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula as described below.
“Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
Plan properly during holidays: Be realistic, freeze leftovers, allow people to serve themselves and finish your leftovers. Make #NotWasting food your tradition.
Compost: Set a compost bin for food scraps rather than throwing it away.
Donate: Donate food that is nutritious, safe and untouched to your local food banks.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
The New York Times
The United Nations
World Economic Forum
Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Energy https://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/food-waste
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
United States Department of Agricultural (USDA)