Why one third of all food is thrown away

The startling side effect of being rich
PostedFebruary 12, 2014, in  Step 8: sustainable society
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‘Worldwide 28% of farmland is used for food that is thrown away.’ This is not our assessment, but the assessment of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As many as 3 billion people could be fed with the food that is thrown away today. How can that be, why it is relevant and what can we do about it?
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Source: 'OpenIDuser2', Wikimedia Commons.

1.3 billion tonnes

Just some figures: between 40% and 60% of all fish caught in Europe ends up in the trash. The reasons? Wrong size, wrong type or problems with the quotas. In the North Atlantic region this adds up to 2.3 million tonnes of fish a year. In the United States, 40 % of all food is wasted during the journey 'from farm to fork.’ Globally, we are talking about 1.3 billion tons of food. Are you getting dizzy yet?

High environmental impact

The disposal figures only relate to finished products. However, to produce food also huge amounts of raw materials and energy are needed, which additionally are lost too. Besides ingredients this also includes water use, waste processing and transportation. It is obvious that this has a high environmental impact.    

Wasted by consumers

In both ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries food is wasted, although the reasons vary. In many poor countries much is wasted by food production and processing companies, and is mostly attributable to restrictions when harvesting, storing and refrigerating food. In rich countries however, it is mainly the consumers that deal with food lavishly. Aesthetic considerations play a big role (‘no curved cucumbers’), as well as excessive focus on the ‘sell by’-date showing on the label: many products are still fine, but simply disappear in the bin after the expiry date. 

Standard procedure

In addition to consumers also supermarkets are guilty: it is standard procedure to buy too much to prevent having empty shelves. The cost of storing and disposing food are lower than the earnings, even at bargain prices. Supermarkets do not want to risk losing out on income because of not stocking enough.     

Pointless rules

Further up in the chain also politics are guilty of food waste, through regulation. Protecting the population with food safety regulations is fine, but aesthetic conditions prevail sometimes. What is the point of a ban on potatoes with too many 'eyes', or on roots with several 'legs' (forked carrots)?

Food banks

Slowly but surely, various initiatives have emerged over the years and do something about food waste. Food banks for example collect residual food and distribute it among people who are financially unable to sustain themselves. In the United States alone, 37 million Americans (1 in 8) depend on it. Also in Europe, many millions of people make use of the food banks daily. But while food banks serve their purpose, they fundamentally do not contribute to the food waste challenge: after all, they do not contribute to reducing overproduction.   

Innovative hospitality concepts

In 2011 Tristram Stuart won the Sophie Prize for his fight against food waste. Stuart has done pioneering work to direct attention towards food waste. To change the situation this is important. According to Stuart, the change has to come from various directions: for example, governments can adjust the regulations, while consumers can become aware of how they deal with food (and save money in the process). Smart entrepreneurs could anticipate on the surplus 'residual food' and use it in innovative hospitality concepts. The possibilities are endless, but Stuart’s core message is as simple as it is logical: ‘The best thing to do with food is to eat and enjoy it.’ That's a positive motto nobody can disagree with.  

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PostedFebruary 12, 2014, in Step 8: sustainable society
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