Material for composting food waste and turning it into nutrient-rich soil for plants.

How can we reduce food waste? Why is it important to reduce food waste? Is reducing food waste sustainable?

How can we reduce food waste? Why is it important to reduce food waste? Is reducing food waste sustainable? Click here for more

Food loss and waste occur when edible food is lost at various stages of the food chain, including on farms, during processing, in production, and ultimately, in shops or in the hands of consumers.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that globally, 30% of food is wasted throughout the supply chain, which contributes to 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

An astonishing 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted annually, while 135 million people suffer from acute hunger.

But what impact does reducing food waste have? We’ll explore this question in the following chapter.

Why is it important to reduce food waste?

Food loss and waste are significant challenges that undermine the sustainability of our food systems. When food is lost or wasted, it represents a squandering of valuable resources such as water, land, energy, labour, and capital. These resources are essential for food production and their wastage exacerbates environmental pressures. Furthermore, the disposal of food waste in landfills emits greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. This not only highlights the environmental impact but also the economic inefficiency of food loss and waste.

Machinery working on waste in landfill, refuse collection with bulldozer, a lots of birds

Additionally, food loss and waste have serious implications for food security and availability. In a world where millions suffer from hunger and malnutrition, the loss of food exacerbates these issues. Moreover, it contributes to rising food costs, making it more difficult for vulnerable populations to access nutritious food.

Addressing food loss and waste is imperative for building resilient and sustainable food systems. Integrated approaches are necessary to maximize the utilization of the food we produce. This requires concerted efforts globally and locally to implement strategies that minimize waste throughout the entire food supply chain.

The adoption of technologies and innovative solutions, such as e-commerce platforms for marketing and retractable mobile food processing systems, can play a vital role in reducing food loss and waste. These technologies, coupled with new ways of working and good practices to manage food quality, are key components of transformative change in the food system. By implementing these measures, we can promote sustainability, enhance food security, and mitigate the adverse effects of food loss and waste on both the environment and society.

How can we reduce food waste?

Reducing food waste is not only beneficial for your wallet but also for the environment. With a few simple strategies, you can minimize waste through planning, prepping, and storing food effectively.

Planning and Shopping Tips

  1. Make a Weekly Meal List: Planning your meals for the week ahead can save you both time and money. By creating a list of what you need, you’re less likely to make impulse purchases and more likely to use everything you buy.
  2. Keep Track of Ingredients: Keep a running list of meals and their ingredients that your household enjoys. This way, you can easily choose, shop for, and prepare meals that you’re likely to consume, reducing the chance of food going to waste.
  3. Shop from Your Pantry and Fridge: Before heading to the store, take stock of what you already have. Plan meals based on what needs to be used up, reducing the risk of buying duplicates and letting food go bad.
  4. Buy Only What You Need: Plan your meals before you go shopping and buy only the items needed for those meals. Consider how often you eat out or use frozen meals and adjust your shopping list accordingly.
  5. Be Mindful of Bulk Buys: While buying in bulk can save money, it’s only beneficial if you use all the food before it spoils. Avoid overbuying by ensuring you have a plan for using up bulk purchases.
  6. Choose Imperfect Produce: Imperfect produce may have physical flaws but is equally nutritious and often available at discounted prices. Opting for imperfect produce can help you reduce food waste while saving money.

Storage Tips

  1. Store Fruits and Vegetables Properly: Proper storage can extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, reducing spoilage. Use high-humidity drawers for leafy greens and low-humidity drawers for fruits and rot-prone veggies.
  2. Organize Your Fridge: Store condiments in the fridge door and meat on the lower shelves, where temperatures are the coldest. Maintain your fridge at 40 °F or below to keep food fresh for longer.
  3. Utilize Your Freezer: Freeze food items like bread, sliced fruit, meat, or leftovers that you know won’t be eaten in time. Label containers with contents and dates for easy identification.

Cooking and Preparation Tips

  1. Get Creative with Leftovers: Repurpose leftovers and ingredients past their prime into soups, stir-fries, or baked goods. This not only reduces waste but also allows you to discover new favourite dishes.
  2. Use Edible Parts You Normally Discard: Don’t discard edible parts of food you typically overlook. Stale bread can be used for French toast, and beet greens can be sautéed for a tasty side dish.
  3. Understand Date Labels: Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” and “best-by” dates to make informed decisions about food safety and quality.

The way to help reduce food waste is not just how you manage the food before you eat, but you have to manage the food after you eat simultaneously.

And these are how you do it:

  1. First In, First Out (FIFO): When unpacking groceries or stocking your pantry, practice FIFO by placing older items at the front and newer items at the back. This ensures that older food gets used first, reducing the likelihood of items expiring before they’re consumed.
  2. Portion Control: Serve appropriate portion sizes to avoid leftovers that may go uneaten. If you do have leftovers, store them properly and incorporate them into future meals to minimize waste.
  3. Donate Surplus Food: If you have excess food that you won’t be able to use, consider donating it to food banks or shelters. Many communities have programs in place to collect and distribute surplus food to those in need.
  4. Compost: Composting is an environmentally friendly way to dispose of food scraps and other organic waste. One option for composting is to use an electric food composter, which efficiently breaks down food waste into nutrient-rich compost. This not only reduces waste but also promotes soil health and supports sustainable gardening practices.
  5. Educate Others: Spread awareness about the importance of reducing food waste and share tips with friends, family, and community members. Encourage others to join in efforts to minimize food waste and make sustainable choices.
  6. Support Businesses with Sustainable Practices: Choose to support businesses that prioritize reducing food waste by buying imperfect produce, patronizing establishments with portion control measures, and advocating for responsible food practices in your community.
Above angle of two volunteers in uniform spreading food among refugees with containers standing in queue by table

Is reducing food waste sustainable?

Reducing food waste offers significant environmental benefits:

  1. Saves Resources: When food is wasted, it squanders the resources involved in its production, including land, water, energy, and labor. Each year, food loss and waste occupy agricultural land equivalent to the size of California and New York combined. This results in energy wastage equivalent to powering 50 million US homes for a year and emits greenhouse gases comparable to those produced by 42 coal-fired power plants.
  2. Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The majority of greenhouse gas emissions from wasted food occur before disposal, during production, transportation, processing, and distribution. Managing uneaten food through pathways like donation, upcycling, composting, or landfilling also generates greenhouse gas emissions. Preventing food waste and sustainably managing unavoidable waste are essential to mitigating these emissions.
  3. Reduces Methane from Landfills: When food waste ends up in landfills, it decomposes and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere 25 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that wasted food contributes to 58% of methane emissions from landfills, exacerbating climate change.
  4. Returns Nutrients to the Soil: Even after utilizing wasted food, certain inedible parts remain, which can be composted to enrich soil quality. Composting transforms these wastes into a nutrient-rich product that enhances soil health, fosters crop growth, and improves water quality.
  5. Supports a Circular Economy: Preventing food waste, optimizing its use, and recovering valuable nutrients contribute to a circular economy. This approach reduces pressure on natural resources, empowers communities, stimulates local economies, and fosters innovation.

In 2021, the EPA released the first report in a series on the environmental impacts of wasted food, aimed at informing policymakers, researchers, and the public about the benefits of reducing food loss and waste in the United States. The report examines the environmental consequences of wasted food from production to consumption. In 2023, the second report was released, completing the analysis by examining the various ways wasted food is managed.

Final thought

Reducing food loss and waste not only conserves natural resources and lowers greenhouse gas emissions but also enhances global food security and access to nutrition, especially for vulnerable groups. However, more data is required to grasp the intricate dynamics within the food system and gauge how interventions at different stages affect the environment and food security.

Raising awareness about the economic, social, and environmental advantages of reducing food loss and waste through education and knowledge-sharing plays a crucial role in achieving positive outcomes.

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