Approximately one-third of the food produced worldwide each year is lost or wasted (United Nations). This amounts to one-third of the food produced around the globe that is wasted either during production or thereafter by consumers. To put this number into context, it is equivalent to 1.3 billion metric tons of food. If the magnitude of the problem is still not clear from this number, we might wish to consider food waste in terms of other criteria. The amount of food that is wasted each year “costs 2.6 trillion US dollars and is more than enough to feed all 815 million hungry people in the world—four times over.” Each step of the food supply chain, from the farm to the table, involves some loss or waste. The causes might be anything from shaky roads that cause spills during food delivery to highly picky clients who reject flawed goods. Whatever the cause, it does not justify the fact that so much food is wasted while so many people are still going hungry. Food waste has risen along with food alternatives and industrial methods. As the population continues to rise, there is a rising issue that has to be addressed. However, if our resources and end results are used wisely, we have the capacity to produce enough food for everyone on the planet.
What is the difference between food loss and food waste?
We must first make a distinction between food loss and food waste before delving further into the problem. Although the two expressions may be interchangeable and both relate to food that has not been consumed
they categorize when the item was cut off from the food supply chain in different ways (FAO). In the manufacturing process, which includes “harvest[ing], storage, and “transportation,” food that is wasted is referred to as “food loss.” Food waste is defined as food that is “fit for human consumption but discarded,” which occurs at the end of the food chain and is typically done by consumers, restaurants, or supermarkets. Knowing when food is lost or wasted is crucial because it makes it simpler to address the problem and create more sustainable food systems (FAO). It is also crucial to consider how food loss and waste vary in developed and developing nations. Food is now being wasted more frequently during the production process in underdeveloped nations than it is by customers in affluent nations. This may be demonstrated by comparing the amount of food wasted by customers in North America to that in Sub-Saharan Africa, where “only 32% of food is lost in the early stages” and “83 percent is lost due to manufacturing, handling, storage, and processing”. This equates to consumers in developed nations wasting 222 million tons of food, which is nearly equal to Sub-Saharan Africa’s net food production (230 million tons) (Food Fuel Future). These stark disparities necessitate that each nation approach the avoidance of food waste in a unique way. By focusing on the source of the problem, each country can do its part to reduce waste and increase the amount of food on tables.
Food is lost or wasted at every step of the lengthy process that goes from farm to table. Fresh items, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat, are especially sensitive. On farms, food is wasted because it doesn’t match the “ideal” aesthetic criteria of merchants, because farmers grow more crops than they need to in order to safeguard their harvests against weather fluctuations, and even because “harvesting technological constraints might result in damaged product or poor yield”. Food is also lost during transportation due to inefficient cold chains, or temperature-controlled supply chains, that keep perishable food from rotting. Because small farmers cannot afford the requisite vehicles, low-income nations are disproportionately affected by these industrial problems. For instance, “4.4 billion [British pounds] worth of fruit and vegetables are lost yearly in India because of the lack of a sustainable cold chain.” On the consumer’s end, waste is produced as a result of poor planning for already-bought food, overspending on food, and pickiness while selecting food. Consumers frequently prepare or purchase too much food, and the extra food ultimately spoils since it isn’t consumed before the expiration date.
Many fruits and vegetables at the grocery store have one little brown spot ready to be thrown out because consumers desire “unblemished” produce. The use-by, sell-by, and best-by dates on food packaging, which do not all mean the same thing and might result in perfectly edible food being thrown out, are another reason why people might throw food out.
To understand the variations between the dates and base judgments on them, see the Food Insight image below. Restaurants, hotels, and the food business over-prepare, which directly contributes to an increase in the amount of food that must be thrown out at the conclusion of service each night (Conserve Energy Future 2017).
The climate, the availability of resources, and the planet’s inhabitants are just a few of the numerous factors that are impacted by the waste of perfectly delicious food. To begin, we must recognize that when food is lost or squandered, “all of the resources that were required to generate it (water, land, and energy) are likewise wasted, at the same time as the calories and nutrients they contain” (Think Eat Save 2019). Therefore, all the effort and materials used on planting, gathering, and transporting the food are wasting away in the trash. This results in the wasteful use of resources and increases our carbon footprint and blue-water footprint. The carbon footprint calculates the overall quantity of greenhouse gases released into the environment, whereas the blue water footprint calculates the amount of potable water that is squandered. Due to inefficient resource use, we are endangering the ecosystem more and more as both of these metrics rise. The little raw resources we have are just being used without producing any value. When nutrients are lost, greenhouse gas emissions from the food production process and landfills rise, hastening the process of climate change. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of food that is produced and then wasted is “equal to 3.3 billion tons” (Conserve Energy Future 2017). This figure takes into account both the fossil fuels required in production and the methane gas created by food spoiling in landfills. As a robust and potent greenhouse gas that is “28 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide,” methane is created in landfills (Cornwall). Food waste is regarded as the “third highest producer of greenhouse gases” globally when these emissions are added up (Conserve Energy Future 2017). Throwing out one rotten apple because we forgot about it might not seem like it would make that much of a difference, but when more people follow suit, the effects of our seemingly innocent little acts grow.
Prevent the occurrence
There are improvements that must be made in the manufacturing chain to help reduce food loss and waste, but several changes must also be made on the consumer end. First, a balance between the quantity of food produced and that which is required must be established. If only the necessary amount was being produced, there wouldn’t be any extra food to throw away, and resources could be used more effectively. To prevent needless food loss, more research must be conducted to develop harvesting, processing, and distribution techniques. While there are adjustments that need to be made on the consumer end, there are also changes that need to be made in the supply chain to help decrease food loss and waste. The first step is to strike a balance between the amount of food produced and what is needed. There wouldn’t be any surplus food to waste, and resources might be used more wisely if only the essential amount was produced. More study must be done to create harvesting, processing, and distribution methods in order to stop wasteful food loss. Food recycling, in which stale bread may be converted into various high-nutrient feeds for cattle, is a novel strategy being investigated to decrease food waste. By using this technique, less raw material must be utilized to produce animal feed, and less nutritional waste must be disposed of. However, composting is one of the simplest methods to cut down on personal food waste! It is essential to emphasize this solution. Uneaten food can be composted, allowing the nutrients to decompose naturally and be used as fertilizer for plants. Cities are also seeing an increase in the use of industrial composts, making the process more
affordable and ubiquitous. Composting reduces landfill methane emissions and replenishes soil nutrients.