SEATTLE — The U.N. calls food waste one of the greatest challenges to achieving food security. Every year, 1.3 billion tons of food goes to waste, while 795 million people are severely hungry and malnourished. Food is wasted more by the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
If we break it down, food waste boils down to 45 percent of fruits and vegetables, 35 percent fish and seafood, 30 percent cereals, 20 percent dairy and 20 percent meat.
All we have to do to be able to have enough food for everyone is reduce our waste by 25 percent. Not only would we be able to feed everybody, we would also be burdening our resources less, leading to less food having to be produced.
The type of waste varies in developing and developed countries. Developing countries have high levels of “food loss,” which is unintentional and is caused by poor equipment, transportation, and infrastructure. Only 5 to 16 percent of food purchased is wasted.
Developed countries, on the other hand, have low levels of unintentional loss, but high levels of “food waste” caused by consumers who by more than what they can consume or retailers that reject food for aesthetic reasons. Wealthy countries waste 30 to 40 percent of purchased food.
A 2011 report revealed that Europe and North America wasted 95-115 kilograms of food per person, while in sub-Saharan Africa and south and Southeast Asia 6-11 kilograms of food was wasted.
The coordinator of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Save Food program, Robert van Otterdijk, noted that “The amount of food wasted by consumers in wealthy countries (222 million tons) is almost the same as the total net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 tons).”
Otterdijk adds, “The carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten about 3.3 gig tons of CO2 is equivalent to, measuring food waste as a country, and classifying it as the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China.”
At the rate our population is expected to grow, we would need to increase food production by 60 percent to meet the global population demand by 2050.
Some countries are addressing this problem. For example, France requires supermarkets to give unsold food to charities. The U.K. has made progress in the last 10 years with their campaign, which Van Otterdijk calls “one of the greatest successes in combatting food waste.”
Campaigns such as Wrap’s Love Food and Hate Waste have helped in decreasing the amount of avoidable waste in U.K. households by 21 percent, from 5.3 million tons to 4.2 million tons, between 2007 and 2012. There was also an increase in the household waste that was recycled or composted from 2000-2001 at 14 percent, and from 2011-2012 at 43 percent.
Spain is also addressing the problem with its “Solidarity Fridge.” The communal refrigerator can be found in the Basque town of Galdakao, where anyone can deposit food or take food. The project came about during the recent recession when Alvaro Saitz was running a food bank.
Saitz read about a project in Germany, where people post notices online about free food and others claim it; he wanted something that would be accessible to everybody. Saitz presented the idea to the mayor, who approved 5,000 euros ($5,580 U.S.) for the fridge, an initial health safety study, electricity and upkeep; the fridge was given an independent status so people can’t sue the city if they get sick.
The rules are no raw meat, fish or eggs; homemade food needs to be labeled with a date and is thrown away after four days, but nothing lasts that long. Restaurants drop off leftover food. Some grandmothers cook just to do their part. After weekend barbecues, the fridge is stocked, and everything is gone the next morning.
NPR visited the fridge, and found it was filled with fresh vegetables from a community garden, had unopened milk, jars of lentils and baby food.
A second Solidarity Fridge can be found in Murica, a town on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Elementary schools take field trips to the original fridge to teach kids about food waste and sharing.
As the leading offender of food waste, and the country with the most resources, we should be leading the way in reducing food waste, and not taking for granted everything we have.
If we are going to tackle poverty and climate change we need to address why so many greenhouse gases are being wasted to contribute to food waste, while millions continue to go hungry in a world of limited resources with a growing population.
– Paula Acevedo