Producing the food we throw away generates more greenhouse gases than most entire countries do.
* Workers harvesting celery.
More than a third of all of the food that’s produced on our planet never reaches a table. It’s either spoiled in transit or thrown out by consumers in wealthier countries, who typically buy too much and toss the excess. This works out to roughly 1.3 billion tons of food, worth nearly $1 trillion at retail prices. Aside from the social, economic, and moral implications of that waste — in a world where an estimated 805 million people go to bed hungry each night—the environmental cost of producing all that food, for nothing, is staggering.
The water wastage alone would be the equivalent of the entire annual flow of the Volga—Europe’s largest river. The energy that goes into the production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of that wasted food, meanwhile, generates more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the U.S. and China.
Some sustainability specialists note that food waste can be mitigated by improving the “cold chain” which comprises refrigerated transport and storage facilities. Some of the discussions between them and environmental reporters, mainly, held the following question: Does the issue of food waste seem to slip below the radar? The discussions led to a conclusion that usually we, the people coming mainly form developed countries, tend to take our food for granted. Since food is so plentiful, we are not aware of the tremendous amount that’s wasted and the impact that has on world hunger, political stability, the environment, and climate change. Yet when it comes to looking for ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions, food wastage is a relatively easy fix—the low-hanging fruit, so to speak—and it is literally rotting on our tables. It doesn’t require any new technology, just more efficient use of what we already have.
* Beef sits on display at a supermarket.
About a third of food waste is due to consumers buying too much and discarding the excess.
Food could hardly be a more important industry to humanity. Every living thing on the planet depends upon it. And yet a third of what we produce never reaches the table. Why are we so inefficient?
Food wastage comes in two forms. About one-third occurs at the consumer level, where we buy too much and throw it away. Approximately two-thirds happens at the production and distribution level. For example, a lot of food rots in fields, or is lost as a result of poor transportation networks, or spoils in markets that lack proper preservation techniques. We can make a big difference by transporting and storing our food under proper temperature conditions to extend food supplies. What can we do better? Where should industry’s and governments’ focus be on reducing food wastage?
Governments can enact food safety standards where they don’t exist. This will jump-start the system to properly transport and store perishable foods like meat, fish, dairy, and produce. It will also ensure that more food is safe for consumption. Industry has a role to innovate and scale technologies so they are affordable in the developing economies. Industry can also serve a useful role by raising awareness of the impacts of food wastage. This process will of course have its influence over the economy.
But surely, all of us could help. We can all take small steps that will accumulate to make a meaningful difference. Let’s buy just the food we need so we throw away less. Let’s bring meals home that we don’t finish in restaurants. Small changes will yield big results.
* Refrigeration containers are part of the “cold chain” that helps
keeping food from spoiling, a major source of food waste.
The cold chain is the network that transports and stores perishable foods like meat, fish, dairy, and produce under proper temperature conditions to avoid spoilage. It involves technologies like marine container refrigeration, truck-trailer refrigeration, cold storage warehouses and rooms, and food retail display cases.
Also, we have to think about, making these cold-chain technologies affordable in the poor countries, where often the need is greatest. It means that we have to think differently. We can’t take today’s sophisticated refrigerated truck-trailer systems available in the U.S. and Europe and expect they can be immediately adopted in emerging countries. In many cases, the roads in these countries can’t accommodate large truck systems, the technical skill is not yet present to support the systems, and the economy can’t yet afford the systems. So we have to scale the technology to the local needs—smaller systems, fewer features, more affordable.