Aminat Adebayo, 2021 Planetary Health Campus Ambassador

Food waste is one of the biggest challenges facing mankind today. Food waste is a massive market inefficiency, the kind that does not exist in other industries. 800 million people go to bed hungry every night, meaning that 1 in 9 people on the planet who are starving or malnourished. The worst part? Each and every one of them could be sufficiently fed using less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the USA, UK and Europe each year.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations , one third of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste. Approximately, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year. The amount of food wasted annually is worth more than 2 trillion USD, which is more than enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world.

The environmental impacts of food waste

Producing food consumes a vast amount of resources. These include:

  1. Water, one of earth’s most precious resources:

All the food we eat is a form of embodied water. 70 percent of water is used for agricultural purposes including irrigation and feeding of livestock. The purpose of water in crop production is not only limited to irrigation alone — water can also be used during frost season to help keep the trees warm. Examples of how water is a major ingredient in the production of crops: the production of one Apple requires an average of 125 litres of water, and the production of one watermelon requires an average of 1,175 litres of water. Discarding an average watermelon means you are pouring 1,175 litres of water down the drain. Food waste footprint reported that 250Km³ of water is used each year to produce food that is ultimately lost or wasted.

2. Land for planting: Above 20% of the world’s agricultural area is used to produce food that is eventually lost or wasted each year. This can lead to elimination of wildlife habitats and clearing of greenhouse-gas absorbing trees. Consequently, this unnecessary degradation causes biodiversity loss and deforestation.

3. Fuel for powering the machinery: The FAO estimates the carbon footprint of food waste is 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. Not only are oil, diesel and other polluting fuels used to power production machinery and transport vehicles, but greenhouse gases are also emitted by food waste itself.

Discarded waste rotting in landfills gives off methane, a potent greenhouse gas 25 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

All these resources get wasted when a food is discarded either deliberately or unintentionally. Hence, reducing food waste is key in combating sustainability challenges. Practices to reduce and avoid food waste include:

1. Avoid wasting food- the best way to reduce food waste is to avoid generating it in the first place. Prevent food from becoming waste- avoid buying food more than you need, and try and make use of the food you already have before buying more groceries.

2. Store food correctly: improper storage can lead to an enormous food waste. For instance, separating foods that produce ethylene gas from those that do not can help to reduce food spoilage. Foods that produce ethylene include: avocados, bananas, tomatoes, and pears. Foods that do not produce ethylene include: potatoes, apples, and green vegetables. Making note of this can go a long way towards avoiding premature spoilage.

3. Cultivate the habit of preserving food: preservation can make food last longer, thus reducing waste. Drying, freezing, pickling, abd curing are all methods that can be used to preserve food.

4. Compost: Composting leftover foods is a great way to reduce food waste, reuse food scraps and also turn food waste into useful energy.

Reducing, reusing and recycling your food waste will not only save you money but also helps conserve some of the earth’s most valuable resources. Making these changes in our household management will help reduce our impacts on the environment.

Generating better understanding of the links between accelerating global environmental change and human health to support policy making and public education