How many times may our parents have told us that we must not waste the food? And even though, are we really aware of the amount of food that is wasted every day in our planet and its consequence at an economical and environmental level?
Every day, around 1.3 billion tons of food suitable for the consumption are lost or wasted in the world, and that means one third of the production- That is, one of every three aliments produced are not consumed. In Spain, for example, these data are translated to an amount of food waste of 7.7 million tones every year.
First of all, it should be defined what does loss and waste mean in this. A food loss refers to that food that has been produced and has not reached the final consumer because of a non-intentional reason, usually, this is due to an inefficient infrastructure in the supply chain of the products. Food waste, on the other side, refers to that food that has been rejected intentionally, mainly because of esthetic and shape reasons. Food wastage would include both food loss and food waste.
Obviously, not all the regions in the world contribute to the food wastage in the same way and proportion. In the most developed areas like USA and EU, the wastage per capita is between 95 and 115 kg per year, while in undeveloped areas like sub-Saharan Africa or South-east Asia, the amount of food wastage per capita is between 6 and 11 kg per year. Is important to also highlight that in the developed countries, the most significant proportion of wastage is given in the consumption level, where the food is rejected mainly because of the perception of the consumer of what a quality product should look like, therefore, for esthetic reasons. Those reasons, simultaneously, have a repercussion on a higher amount of food wastage in the farmers and the intermediary’s stages, which reject those un-esthetic products in the first phase of the supply chain because they know that the products will not be bought by the consumers. In the developing countries, on the other hand, the food wastage is given mainly due to an inefficient infrastructure in the transport and storage of the food. In this last case, as the wastage is due to limitations in the infrastructure and it is to intentional causes, it is not considered food waste but food loss.
The following graphic shows, depending on the worlds area, in which stage of the supply chain (production and distribution or consumption) the food has been lost and in which proportion. It can be seen that in the most developed regions, the food waste is mostly generated by the consumers, being the proportion of around 30% of the total food wastage.
The wastage of such amount of food means a great social and ecological disequilibrium. On one hand, it provokes a social injustice with regard to those 800 million people that suffer chronic hunger while the 33% of the food production is wasted. Moreover, it is expected that the food production needed by 2050 will be 60% higher than it was in 2007, therefore, making a more efficient use of the produced food would help us to meet the demand in the future. On the other hand, this amount of food wastage means a huge ecological impact mainly due to the great amount of water used for the cultivation and production of this food that will lately be lost and, therefore, absurd waste of water. The amount of water waste is comparable to the Volga river flow, which is of 8 000 m3/s, this is, every second the equivalent to 3 Olympic pools of water is wasted due to the production of food that at the end is not consumed. Other environmental implications of the food wastage is the methane emissions to the atmosphere produced during the food decomposition; and the emissions of CO2 equivalent related to the production and distribution of the food wastage, which is calculated to be 3.3 tones every year, caused principally by the pesticides and fertilizers used, to the fields of land used and to the emissions during the industrialization of the food and its transport. In fact, and in order to be able to imagine until which extend those emissions have an impact on the global emissions of CO2, if we consider the emissions generated by the food wastage to be the emissions of a whole country, that country would be the third emitter of CO2 of the world, just after China and USA.
Finally, it should be noted that the impact is not just social or environmental, this food wastage also has a great economical impact. Since money has been inverted in the production of products that are not consumed, this money is wasted money as well. The FAO calculates that the costs associated to the production and distribution of the wasted and lost food reach the amount of $750 billion annually.
This major problem has already become visible and it is considered as a social emergence which many organizations, associations and companies are already trying to attack.
Among the ONU targets for 2030 there are two related to the efficient use of the food: the goal “Zero Hunger and sustainable agriculture”, which aims to finish with the hunger and ensure the access to safe and nutritional food to everyone in the world, and the goal “Responsible consumption and production”, which aims to reduce to the 50% the food wastage per capita in the world.
In addition to the ONU, there are in Europe many campaigns that promote the consumption of ugly food but totally suitable for the consumption and of quality. Among many others there is the non-profit organization “Els Espigoladors”, in Spain, which tries to avoid the food waste in the recollection stage of that food that is not going to be collected because it is not going to reach the commercial phase, either because they do not accomplish with the esthetic standards (shape, size, color, etc.) or either because the price on the market of that product is not worth the effort for the farmer to pick it up. The 90% of the collected food is sent to NGOs while the other 10% is used to produce jam or similar and later commercialized.
Other business and smart-phone applications have been created as well with the goal of saving the food to be dispatched or wasted in the supermarkets or in restaurants. Through these platforms, the users can see the products that are about to expire or be rejected in the supermarkets or in restaurants and they can save them by buying them much cheaper than the original price.
Even though all these efforts made by all those organizations to end up this problem, in the end, and mostly in the developed countries, those with the major power to end up with this problem are ourselves, the consumers. Small actions, like organizing properly our groceries in order to avoid our food to expire in the kitchen or take advantage of the deals of the super markets or restaurants on the food about to expire, are simple ways to contribute to the reduction of food waste and also to save money by not spending it on food that is not going to be consumed. A smooth act like saving a loaf of bread to be thrown to the trash avoid an amount of CO2 emissions equivalent to the CO2 emitted by a car running for 1 km.
Author: Marta Llovera Bonmatí