• Anja Nguyen

Food waste: The dark cloud of mankind

The majority of the world’s population is aware of the existence of food waste. Food waste is popular because when you are reading this entry, we are quite sure that there is something edible in your trash can. However, only a minority of them understand the severity of it.


What is it exactly?


Any kind of nutrition, raw or cooked, that is categorized as ‘being thrown away or going to be thrown away’ is considered as food waste. Up to 30% of the food produced yearly is wasted, which is roughly equivalent to 1,8 billion tonnes/year according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.


In Europe, households are responsible for 53% of food waste on the continent, according to the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute. Particularly, the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE) conducted research pointing out that Finnish households waste 120–160 million kilograms of food, or 20–25 kilograms per person every year.


There are several reasons resulting in such a large amount of food waste. Households certainly are not the only one who is responsible for this enormous amount of food waste, even though they are identified as the most wasteful element. For instance, one-third of the food we produced is rejected because of their wrong sizes and shapes before they even reach the shelves at supermarkets. Another typical example is when supplying sources are way too much compared to the demand, the food starts to go off and becomes inedible - forcing us to discard them. Apart from consumer behavior; poor producing infrastructure, inappropriate storing methods, overbuying, overpreparation, and over-merchandizing are the other prominent factors to be blamed for.

Credit to maerzkind/ Getty Images

How does it affect us?


Food waste does not directly affect our everyday life, it indirectly affects us through the negative impact on our livelihood. Thus, it is arguable; food waste is the culprit of deforestation, water scarcity, and land erosion. Since the water used in producing food is enormous, wasting 30% of all the food also means throwing away 30% of the freshwater used in food production and processing (which is around thrice the volume of Lake Geneva, according to the FAO) - this results in blue water footprint.


FAO’s research also pointed out that the wastage of food is equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse emissions, one of the primary accelerators of climate change. Food production likewise, emits a massive amount of greenhouse gases. The quantity of fossil fuels utilized in cooking, processing, and transportation is not a humble number at all.

Biodiversity loss happens more and more these years since the farmers have been expanding their crops and somehow the wild habitats of a few species are invaded during the search of land. Additionally, fishery resources have been damaged, and the marine ecosystem has been altered as a result of overexploitation or implementing the wrong fishing methods.


Where do we go from here?


Let’s scale up from the small actions. What each of us can start acting on now is to change our consumer behavior. We can consider carefully the amount of food we would consume will help avoid overbuying and store leftovers in the right way. When each individual starts to be self-aware of this matter, the positive impact on reducing food waste will start to be visible.


New technologies should be implemented to make storing food more efficient and to make full use of food waste. There have been amazing examples of utilizing food waste, some of them are: RENS Original - a Finnish fashion brand created the world’s first sneakers from coffee grounds & recycled plastics; Dole - an American giant in producing vegetables and fruit is exploring how to turn pineapple skins & banana leaves into compostable packaging; ReGrained - a startup based in San Francisco turns the leftover grains from beer brewery into nutritious & upcycled protein bars.

From leftover grains to protein bars. Captured image

What do you think? Do you have any idea to prevent or ‘rescue’ food waste?


Sources:

Ortiz, D. BBC: The wasteful fate of a third of food. https://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/follow-the-food/the-wasteful-fate-of-a-third-of-food/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

http://www.fao.org/home/en/

Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE): Food waste and the circular economy of the food system

https://www.luke.fi/en/natural-resources/food-and-nutrition/food-waste-and-the-circular-economy-of-the-food-system/

Oakes, K. 2020. BBC: How cutting your food waste can help the climate

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200224-how-cutting-your-food-waste-can-help-the-climate




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