How Reducing Food Waste Could Ease Climate Change

Producing the food we throw away generates more greenhouse gases than most entire countries do.

* Workers harvesting celery.

Reducing food waste_Ease climate change

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.

Food_Shelves

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.

Refrigeration containerNow, let’s try and explain, what exactly the “cold chain” is.

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.

BIOCHAR

Biochar is a charcoal-like material created when biomass is heated in the absence of air or with very small, controlled amounts of oxygen. It can be used to capture and store carbon. This is because charcoal is a stable solid and rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil *. Biochar also acts as a soil improver.

* – For an example, there is a sewage plant in Germany that heats sewage to create biochar. The process is so successful that the plant is carbon negative – actually locking away carbon that would otherwise be in circulation. Also, the German Institure UMSICHT, The Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Energy and Safety Technology works on the topic of efficient production of energy from wastewater, as well as on the energetic usage of biochar.

Environmental Benefits of Biochar

Sustainable biochar is a powerfully simple tool to address some of the most urgent environmental problems of our time:

– Climate Change

Sustainable biochar can be used now to help combat climate change by holding carbon in soil and by displacing fossil fuel use. Biochar retains nitrogen, thus emissions of nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas) may be reduced. Turning agricultural waste into biochar also reduces methane (another potent greenhouse gas) generated by the natural decomposition of the waste. Just to simplify the process, the researches have shown that, this powerfully simple tool can store 2.2 gigatons of carbon annually by 2050.

– Soil degradation and food insecurity

As a soil enhancer, biochar makes soil more fertile, boosts food security, preserves cropland diversity, and reduces the need for some chemical and fertilizer inputs.

– Water pollution by agro-chemicals

Biochar improves water quality by helping to retain nutrients and agrochemicals in soils for use by plants and crops, resulting in less pollution.

– Waste Management

Biochar production offers a simple, sustainable tool for managing agricultural wastes. A combination of waste management, bioenergy production, and sustainable soil management can succeed with an approach involving biochar.

– Deforestation and loss of cropland diversity

By converting agricultural waste into a powerful soil enhancer with sustainable biochar, we can preserve cropland diversity and discourage deforestation.

Now, let’s explain what BIOCHAR is.

Biochar

Sustainable biochar is a powerfully simple tool to fight global warming. This 2,000 year-old practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water. Sustainable biochar is one of the few technologies that is relatively inexpensive, widely applicable, and quickly scalable.

Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonisation of biomass. Biochar may be added to soils with the intention to improve soil functions and to reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gases. Biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration value. Biochar is a valuable soil amendment.

Biochar can be an important tool to increase food security and cropland diversity in areas with severely depleted soils, scarce organic resources, and inadequate water and chemical fertilizer supplies. Biochar also improves water quality and quantity by increasing soil retention of nutrients and agrochemicals for plant and crop utilization. More nutrients stay in the soil instead of leaching into groundwater and causing pollution.

Biochar_2The carbon in biochar resists degradation and can hold carbon in soils for hundreds to thousands of years. Biochar is produced through pyrolysis or gasification — processes where biomass is being heated in the absence (or under reduction) of oxygen. In addition to creating a soil enhancer, sustainable biochar practices can produce oil and gas byproducts that can be used as fuel, providing clean, renewable energy.

Biochar and bioenergy co-production can help combat global climate change by displacing fossil fuel use and by sequestering carbon in stable soil carbon pools. It may also reduce emissions of nitrous oxide. It’s one of the few technologies that is relatively inexpensive, widely applicable, and quickly scalable. We really can’t afford not to pursue it.

Written by Juliane Petrovska,

B.Sc.Tech.Eng

How to avoid Genetically Engineered Food

(A Greenpeace Shoppers Guide)

What is GE Food?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created by taking genes from organisms such as bacteria, viruses or animals and inserting them into other, often unrelated species. Unlike traditional breeding, genetic engineering creates new organisms that would never occur in nature, creating new and unpredictable health and environmental risks. The term “genetically engineered food” refers to any product containing or derived from GMOs. In Canada, up to 70 percent of the processed foods found in grocery stores contain GE ingredients. The most common GE ingredients come from crops like corn, soy, canola and cotton. Biotechnology companies like Monsanto genetically engineer these crops to produce a pesticide or to withstand the application of herbicide.

GE tomatoThe Health and Environmental Risks of GMO’s
The planting of GE crops on millions of hectares of land and their introduction into our food supply is a giant genetic experiment. As living, reproducing organisms, GMOs form a type of living pollution that can spread across vast areas creating environmental risks that are unprecedented and possibly irreversible. Some of the dangers include the loss of biodiversity, the development of super-weeds and super-pests leading to increased use of toxic pesticides, contamination of organic and conventional crops, and harm to beneficial organisms. Health risks associated with GE food include the development of antibiotic resistance, allergic reactions, nutritional changes and the creation of toxins. And if the country’s authorities require NO long-term testing of GE foods, it’s impossible to determine what effects they are having.

What about Organic food?
The use of genetically engineered organisms is prohibited under organic food standards. Organic foods are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or irradiation. Organic standards require that attentive care be given – care that promotes health and meets the behavioural needs of livestock. GE animal feed is also prohibited. The best way to avoid GE food is to purchase 100% certified organic products, whole foods and fresh products.

GE strawberry GE flower

Take Action!
Food companies continue to use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food, ignoring the wishes of the majority of its countrymen. Wanting to help and provide information, the Greenpeace has issued a Shoppers Guide containing lists of some common foods found in grocery stores that are made with ingredients from genetically engineered crops. The guide is not intended to be comprehensive but to offer a starting point for shoppers who are concerned about GE food.

As a general rule, check ingredient lists for products made with corn, soy, cotton or canola. The information stated in the Guide, comes primarily from direct communication between Greenpeace and food producers. Some are reacting to what their customers want by providing non-GE food, while others have refused to do so. The Shoppers Guide is a help guide to navigate the unlabeled aisles of our local supermarkets. It provides information regarding types of food that are subjected to GE engineering, and are as follows: baby food, baking supplies, beverages, candy and chocolates, cereals and breakfast, canned and jarred foods, condiments, cookies and deserts, dried meals and sauce mixes, frozen foods, salad dressings and oils, snack foods, dried foods, soups, pasta sauces, dairy and meat alternatives.

For further information regarding this article, please visit http://www.greenpeace.ca

GE corn

Written by Juliane Petrovska,

Food Technologist

Happy holidays …

World Water Day 2012 (WWD2012)

World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of water and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day.

Theme of this year’s campaign is “The World Is Thirsty Because We Are Hungry” and raise awareness about water consumption for food production.

“The world is thirsty because of our needs for food. Today, there are over 7 billion people to feed on the planet and this number is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. To be able to feed everybody, we first need to secure water, in sufficient quantity and adequate quality. We will also need to produce more food using less water, reduce food wastage and losses, and move towards more sustainable diets”

 

All information about WWD2012 could be find on the official web site http://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday/. Greener supports WWD2012 and next days will be dedicated to water.

Don’t waste food …

New Year and Christmas led me to think about “how much food is thrown unnecessarily?”.  Usually we prepare food in large quantities, because the human eye is greedy and the table should be full (overfull) no matter that only half of what is served will be eaten, and the rest will end up in garbage bins. Let’s not forget that while we behave irresponsibly with food many people barely manage to get one meal per day.

Have you ever wondered how much food is throw it in the world daily? This is what data says – in America just in 2010 are throw away 34 million tonnes food and only 3% from that are recycled or reuse, remaining 33 million tons ended up in landfills or in ovens for destruction. In addition the above figures, the average American family unnecessarily throws usually 600$ from its budget by unused food that ends up as waste. This is something which forces me to think about … what about you?
The situation in the EU is worrying, too. Figures show that in EU 89 million tons of foods, which is 179 kg per capita, are thrown away annually. The EU institutions aware of the magnitude of the problem has already taken steps to overcome it. The European Parliament called in a resolution adopted on 01/19/2012 for urgent measures to halve food waste by 2025 and to improve access to food for needy EU citizens.

Today, food represents the largest percentage of solid waste, which is normal because there is no life without food. If we approach to this problem with bigger awareness and change our habits we will have both environmental and economic benefit. Food waste will be significantly reduced if we do our buying with plan for necessary stuff for next few days not by grabbing everything we see on the markets. At the same time, more money will remain in our wallets that could be spent for other purpose or need.

But let me going back to the thought and the problem. Food should not necessarily end up in trash bins along with the overall waste. For example:
–    food can be given to those who need it, certainly if still usable. In our country there are many poor families and public kitchens where such food may well be used.
–    food could be used for production of quality compost without pesticides and other chemical. With proper treatment can prepare high quality food without additives for domestic animals. Previously we have written post how to prepare compost.
–    you could extend foods shelf life through processing. For example:
1.    if the tomatoes have started to soften in refrigerator, don’t wait to rotten but crumble them in minor pieces and cook them. That is how you will prepare tomato sauce which can be used in preparation or as a dressing for other meals.
2.    by the rice that you have prepared as a side order for lunch could  be prepared delicious and nutritious meal with simple adding of vegetables and some spices.

Such examples are so many, our grandmothers and mothers used them quite often in the past, but unfortunately we are forgetting this. It is easier for us to get rid of food by throwing it in the trash.
It would be nice if examples what I mention could reach people from commercial facilities, too, and food what is prepared in restaurants daily or food with close deadlines – from the shelves of supermarkets and retail markets, will not became a part of the municipal waste.
Therefore, in future, when you will go to purchase some food think if it is really necessary to buy that food that or you could go home without it, or if you have some food leftovers how would you treat it and where it will end.

Happy Holidays …

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