A growing population in a near future with limited resources means we need to take steps in reducing food waste in order to feed everyone on the planet.
With 795 million people suffering from hunger1 and an estimated world population of 9.6 billion people by 20502, food waste has become a priority issue. To ensure we can feed the entire planet in the years to come, we must take steps to engage the entire supply chain.
The amount of global food wasted per year has reached 40% of global food production – up from 30% in 20113 according to the FAO. For the US and the EU, this represents, respectively, 63 million tons4 and 88 million tons5 of food wasted per year. In economic terms, the amount of food wasted in the US represents $218 billion USD4 and 143 billion Euros in the EU5.
Where is food wasted?
Waste happens at every step of the supply chain: at the farm, at the supplier and manufacturer level, in the retail store, and in the consumer home. However, in developing countries, food is mostly wasted during the harvest, transportation, storage, and processing process, whereas in industrialized countries, waste happens primarily at the retail and consumer level.
Why is food wasted?
At the supplier/manufacturer level, ingredients need to respect strict criteria such as shape or aspect, referred to by some as the “cult of perfection.” If an ingredient differs from these standards, it will be rejected and most of the time thrown in the garbage or sometimes back in the field.
At the retailer level, products that are damaged or spoiled will be thrown out. Moreover, ingredients or products that are unsold or have passed the “sell by” date will also be thrown away. According to the USDA, unsold produce represents about $15 billion6 in the US each year.
In the consumer home, the labeling system has often been accused of increasing the quantity of food wasted due to confusing wording of the expiration date (i.e. “best by”, “use by,” “sell by”). Concerned for their health and unsure of the safety of the food, the consumer will throw away the product as soon as it passes the date written on the label, regardless of whether it is the “sell by” or the “use by” date. According to the FMI, 91% of consumers have thrown away food7 because they thought there was a safety risk.
What is wasted?
It’s not only the food that is wasted – in fact, all the products and resources used to produce the food are also wasted. In the US, this includes 21% of all fresh water4, 19% of all fertilizer4, and 18% of the crop surface4. The wasted food will also make up 21% of landfill volume4 and contributes to climate change by producing 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
What can we do?
Many countries around the world have launched initiatives to help reduce food waste.
In the US, the USDA has created a food safety app called FoodKeeper8. This app will provide users with storage recommendations for 400+ food items and also help consumers use food at peak quality to reduce food wastage.
In the UK, Tesco has partnered with the FareShare FoodCloud9 to reduce food waste and fight hunger with the excess food in their store. The food, originally destined for waste, will be redistributed to local groups and charities.
In the UK also, Lodge Farm10 is creating electricity from its red cattle slurry, chicken litter, and the waste from the local Kellogg’s food factory. Since 2011, they have produced more than 4.5m kWh of electricity and heat.
In Spain, a “gleaning” movement11 has grown rapidly in response to food waste. Gleaners will gather the food left on the fields, like cabbages or carrots, in order to donate them to food banks or transform the food into jams, soups, or sauces.
These are just few examples that prove that steps can be taken along the entire supply chain to help reduce food waste. Other preventive actions such as implementing processing and packaging technologies that increase the shelf life of foods, or ensuring proper transport and storage conditions to maximize shelf life, are equally important.
Moreover, it is essential to ensure that food safety plans and product labeling are correct, to avoid recalls or unnecessary waste, as well as produce and test food for compliance with the destination country’s food regulations to ensure it is not rejected or disposed of at a country’s border. We can also extend the supply chain of products by reusing them and giving them a second life by composting, creating renewable energy, making feedstock, producing jam, soups, or sauces, donating to food banks, or promoting ugly fruits and veggies in the store!
1 2015 World Hunger and Poverty facts and statistics, World Hunger Education Service. 2015. http://www.worldhunger.org/2015-world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/
2 World population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, United Nations. 06/13/2013. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/un-report-world-population-projected-to-reach-9-6-billion-by-2050.html
3 Food wastage footprint – Impact on natural resources, FAO. 2013. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3347e/i3347e.pdf
5 Food Waste, European Commission, 08/18/2016. http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/index_en.htm
6 How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, Dana Gunders. August 2012. https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf
7 Forty Percent of Food in the US Never Gets Eaten, Perrin Ireland. 09/18/2013. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/forty-percent-of-food-in-the-us-never-gets-eaten/
8 USDA Updates FoodKeeper App, Diane Quagliani. 07/29/20116. http://www.progressivegrocer.com/departments/technology/usda-updates-foodkeeper-app
9 Fareshare Food Cloud in Tesco Stores, http://www.fareshare.org.uk/fareshare-foodcloud-in-tesco-stores/
11 Food waste: harvesting Spain’s unwanted crops to feed the hungry, Arthur Nelsen. 07/15/2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/15/food-waste-harvesting-spains-unwanted-crops-to-feed-the-hungry
This article originally appeared in Asia Food Journal on September 2nd 2016