LONDON — Whether it’s throwing away leftovers or leaving half of an entrée untouched at a restaurant, people waste food every day without thinking twice. In fact, one-third of all food produced worldwide is either lost or wasted, and the amount wasted or lost equals more than half of the world’s annual cereal crop. Recenty, Western European countries have instituted food waste reforms to reverse this trend.
Although the terms “food loss” and “food waste” are typically grouped together, their definitions differ. “Food loss” indicates food that spills, spoils, experiences a reduction in quality such as bruising or wilting, or is lost before reaching the consumer. This is an unintentional result of food production and is usually related to an issue with storage, packaging or infrastructure. “Food waste,” however, refers to good quality food that was not consumed because it was discarded before or after spoilage. This is a result of negligence and a conscious decision to throw out the food.
About 56 percent of food waste occurs in the developed world: North America, Oceania, Europe, China, Japan and South Korea. This waste usually happens at the consumption stage rather than the production stage. Overall, industrialized countries waste about as much food as the entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, 25 percent of the calories intended for consumption are wasted.
Wasting food carries both economic and environmental consequences. It’s a wasted investment that reduces farmers’ incomes while simultaneously increasing consumers’ expenses. It results in higher greenhouse gas emissions and represents an inefficient use of natural resources.
Many wonder why all grocery stores do not donate unsold food to help combat the issue of food waste. Some vendors view food donations as a liability issue; they believe they will be sued for providing food that gets someone sick. Others may have difficulty storing leftover food or do not know where to donate. Some food banks also lack the space and equipment to transport and store perishables. However, some European countries are working to fix this system by establishing food waste reforms.
In May, the French government passed a law requiring grocery stores to either donate unsold food or sell it for animal feed. More than 15 billion pounds of food are wasted in France every year, and this new legislation aims to lower that number. The law applies to all grocery stores 4,305 square feet or larger. These stores have until July 2016 to arrange deals with local charities for food donations or face a fine of 75,000 euros. There will also be food waste education programs put into place for schools or businesses.
The United Kingdom’s largest grocery store chain, Tesco, is also committing to donating unsold food. They have partnered with FareShare, a food redistribution charity, which now helps Tesco managers to connect with local charities to donate food. This program was tested at over 100 stores in Ireland, and will now be effective in 10 stores across several countries, including Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Tesco’s efforts prove that such programs can be effective even in countries where they are not legally required.
Both France and the UK are now setting an example for other developed nations to follow. If similar food waste reforms were implemented across other industrialized countries, wasting unsold food could become an unacceptable practice for grocery stores, and food banks and charities that rely on food donations could use these resources to feed even more of the world’s hungry.