With current global climate catastrophes becoming more pronounced in recent times, many scientists are looking for many different solutions to help reduce our impact on the environment – and food waste is one of the more prominent problems that could be easily curbed. If everyone took a greater role and responsibility in safeguarding the environment and reducing their individual waste, even just in their homes, then they could help halt the rate at which our environment becomes irreversibly changed for the worse.
Scientists estimate that people waste 1.3 billion tons of food annually, 35 million tons of wasted food occurring in the United States alone, and the average US citizen wasting about 20 pounds of food per month. This means that about 33% of all food produced in the world is wasted, and yet billions of people still go hungry every day. In most third-world countries this is due to poor infrastructure; these countries lack the technology to properly process and refrigerate food, and often food is wasted in transit to the market or because it is not up to proper standards by the time it arrives.
Food waste is particularly detrimental to the environment because of the magnitude of its occurrence. Food is the single most abundant item in landfills, and when it breaks down it creates carbon dioxide and methane, both of which are greenhouse gasses and help contribute to global warming. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, food waste accounts for nearly 3.3 Gt of carbon dioxide equivalent every year, a number Dominion Energy has compared to the exhaust from about 20 million SUVs! If simply the amount of waste could be cut in half, that alone would drastically improve its overall impact. From a health standpoint, reducing waste could help us live longer lives – since wasting less food often requires shopping more frequently, people tend to eat healthier and fresher foods.
For the average consumer in a developed country who has no hand in the production line, there are many ways to reduce waste, most of which involve simply being conscious of waste and acting appropriately. First, careful planning at the grocery is crucial; shop more frequently, buy less food at once, and if you are buying in bulk make sure you are getting the appropriate amount for your families needs. Try not to overcook, and make sure to eat leftovers instead of throwing them away. Store food properly and be careful to watch expiration dates. Keep track of what food is wasted and be aware of how to prevent this waste in the future. Ultimately it will be impossible to completely eliminate all food waste, so if there is still waste after these steps have been taken composting is a great option and is much more environmentally friendly than sending that food to a landfill.
Scientists are also coming up with better technologies to help reduce waste. Improved packaging, which contains a safety gas of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, would help keep food fresher for longer. Enhanced refrigeration technology would help developing countries increase their crop-to-market yields, as well as improved infrastructure and roads. Turning waste into energy is also a crucial conservation step.
The average person, however, could find certain local apps and technologies handy in becoming more aware about waste. LeftOverSwap and Love Food Hate Waste educate people and allow them to trade leftover foods locally. LeanPath can help organizations better manage their food, and 222 Million Tons and Wise Up on Waste are two other apps that help consumers become better educated and tailor their shopping to their needs.
Solving global food waste requires participation from everyone or else it will ultimately fail. It is the responsibility of each individual to be aware of their impact on the environment and reduce their footprint as much as possible, and the best place to start is now, with your next batch of food. Bon apetit!