Food waste is a global economic issue right now. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), roughly one third of food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
Bringing those statistics closer to home, the average New Zealand household in 2015 lost around $563 through food waste (Household Expenditure Statistics: Year ended June 2016, Statistics New Zealand).
The economic disadvantages of food waste don’t just occur within households at the consumer level; they effect businesses and the environment, says Love Food Hate Waste New Zealand spokesperson, Jenny Marshall.
“Wasting food not only wastes people’s money, it also wastes people time and energy. Every time we throw away our leftovers we then need to cook another meal from scratch, which involves more time shopping, cooking and washing dishes.
“For businesses, there is the cost of producing the food, the cost of disposing of the unsold food and the opportunity cost of loss of revenue from sales.
“For the environment, increased CO2 emissions. Household food waste alone creates more than 325,975 tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum. That’s the equivalent of taking 118,000 cars off the road each year, or planting 130,970 trees per year,” Jenny says.
Continuing on an economic perspective there is huge commercial opportunity in the mitigation of food waste. Asides from fiscally the most beneficial flow-on effects of this are less strain on our resources and on the environment.
“A just released study from the World Resources Institute shows that for every $1 companies invested to reduce food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs.
“For food manufacturers donating food to food rescue groups for example, saves them the cost of rubbish disposal, but also allows them to quantify just how much avoidable food waste they are creating, allowing companies to identify on areas for improvement e.g. improving inventory management in warehouses.”
“A ranking of 27 possible food waste remedies by ReFED, a consortium of businesses, NGOs and others fighting food waste, named standardising date labels as the most effective money saver for both businesses and consumers.
“Many countries have now formulated national food waste strategies to enable business government and NGOs to work together to identify opportunities and solutions. Australia is looking at developing a national food waste strategy.
“But it is also important to raise awareness of the issue at a consumer level, as regardless of what changes occur higher up the supply chain to minimise food waste, if the food that is eventually purchased by households is then thrown away uneaten, all those other efforts have been wasted.”
If every individual adopted a conscious approach to food waste, it would be a case of small, collective changes creating big impact.
Efforts to combat the aggressive rate of food production and food waste can certainly be implemented at every stage of the process, from planting and harvest to retail and consumerism.
According to FAO, “In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques, as well as storage and cooling facilities.
“Strengthening the supply chain through the direct support of farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food and packaging industry, could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste.
“In medium and high-income countries, food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behaviour of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries.”
The study identified a lack of coordination between actors in the supply chain as a contributing factor. Farmer-buyer agreements can be helpful to increase the level of co-ordination.
“Additionally, raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers, as well as finding beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away, are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.”
How you can mitigate your own personal food waste:
- If possible, grow your own and give excess produce to friends, family and food banks
- Try to recycle and compost
- If you must shop, shop for only 1-2 days in advance to minimise wastage and support local farmers’ markets where retail standards aren’t as strictly imposed
- When cooking, don’t over serve; using smaller plates can help with portion control
- If you do overcook, save and actually eat the left overs
- Storing food properly (in the right place) will help it to last longer
- Avoid clutter: keep your pantry and fridge neat with everything visible so it’s easy to see and use what you have
- Try your hand at canning and preserving
- Use food apps and gadgets for helpful tips and techniques on mitigating food waste.
Key facts you need to know about food waste:
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US $680 billion in industrialized countries and US $310 billion in developing countries
- Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)
- The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010)
- In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialised countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels
- At retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance
- Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change
- The food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people
- The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people
- The food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people
- Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world
- Food losses during harvest and in storage translate into lost income for small farmers and into higher prices for poor consumers.
By Lydia Truesdale