Food waste on a massive scale has a considerable economic and environmental cost. It may look trivial to those who can afford food every day but to the millions facing hunger issues, it’s scandalous.
Despite efforts to tackle the problem, it continues to expand. There’s therefore a need to inculcate in people better eating habits and effective food management principles.
One third of the food produced for human consumption is lost and wasted yearly, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Food wastage totals up to $680 billion concerning industrialized countries while in developing countries it is $310 billion.
It’s a colossal waste. One can imagine the improvements that could have been brought in the standard of living of the poor.
“UK currently wastes 10.2 million tons of food a year, 1.8 million are processed products. Hospitality and food service industry alone throw out the equivalent of 1.3 million meals a year.” (Daily Mail, 13 May, 2019) We also learn that “More than 50 million tons of fresh produce grown across Europe is discarded. In UK 4.5 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables are thrown away every year.”
One study points out: “Billions of tons of food amounting to roughly $1 trillion go to waste each year without ever reaching the consumer’s plate.”
Clean India Journal (12 May 2018) informs us that Mumbai generates close to 9,400 metric tonnes of solid waste per day, from which 70% is food, vegetable and fruit waste. Only 3% is plastic. The city’s garbage dumps are very much like six-storey buildings. Delhi produces 9,000 metric tonnes of waste every day. The largest 70-acre landfill contains 12 million tonnes of waste measuring up to 50 feet.
A China Daily report (2018) says, “Chinese consumers wasted roughly 17 to 19 million tons of food served in big cities in 2015, a quantity sufficient to feed 30 to 50 million individuals annually.” In the four cities surveyed, vegetables topped the list of food waste.
In a new report (17 Jan 2019), Second Harvest, an agency that aims at reducing food waste, remarks: “58% of all food produced in Canada – 35.5 million tonnes – is lost or wasted.” A third could be used to help needy persons.
The value of all food lost or wasted in Canada is “a staggering $49 billion”. The amount of food wasted could feed every Canadian for 5 months.
South African households waste 1.4 million tonnes of food each year. 10 million tons of food are lost or wasted every year in France and they cost the government 16 billion euros per year. Switzerland wastes 2.6 million tons annually, two thirds still edible by the time the food is got rid of.
Dangers and inconveniences
Food waste is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, producing methane, a harmful atmospheric pollutant.
By the time fruits and vegetables reach the distribution sector, a good portion may no longer appear appealing. Not considered aesthetically friendly, they are rejected even if they are perfectly suitable for consumption. In this way, tons of fruits and vegetables do not reach the consumers.
Discarded food attracts rats, pests, flies, and animals. Rotting food causes pollution. It’s also an eyesore. Food waste entails financial loss. Consumers could very well save enough money for better use if they could spend money wisely. Besides, when we think of all the efforts and resources, like water for instance, that go into the production of food, it’s sad to see people squandering food unnecessarily. We must thank God and also those who have toiled in the fields to give us our daily food. Throwing away eatable food is an insult to them.
Decomposition of food leads to contamination. Countless people, including children, depend on public bins and street corners to obtain something to eat and drink in order to survive. They’re exposed to diseases. Moreover, food waste creates additional hassles for scavengers and clogging itself shortens the life span of landfills.
The supermarket culture has created a demand for food. Money is lavishly spent on food advertisements. Somehow you’re made to believe that the more you buy, the happier you are as a citizen. People are lured into shopping. Sometimes you buy one product and you get one free. (Let’s be honest: nothing is really free in business.) Businessmen know that consumers generally buy impulsively. Thus, food waste can be linked to the brainwashing done by the commercial and advertising industry.
With better planning of our family budgets, we can control our spending and eating habits. Why do we have to buy more than what we need? Why do we cook more than what we can consume? Why can’t we use surplus food creatively?
Food waste underlines the great division between the haves and the have-nots. The big challenge of modern times is to see how we can cut down on extravagant consumption of food in well-to-do countries and to provide enough to the other half of the hungry world.
Food wastage is not given the same visibility in the public as, let’s say, pollution or climate change, for reasons difficult to understand. Yet it remains a critical issue. We do need intense awareness programmes, with both parents and children in schools.
For the FAO, food wastage is “a missed opportunity to improve global food security”.