In the most recent years, food waste has become a complex phenomenon attracting the attention of scientists, consumers, and activists’ attention.
It’s been termed a global paradox based on the manner in which emphasis is put on agriculture to improve food security, and then a third of all the food produced ends up as waste.
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) report, indicating that food waste globally equals one-third of the total food produced for human consumption, about 1.6 billion tons a year.
The reason it’s becoming a huge concern is the economic, social, and environmental costs associated with it.
BFCN (Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition) defines food waste as the misuse or food losses that occur during industrial processing, distribution, and consumption.
Therefore, understanding and ending food waste has been a priority among nonprofit organizations and governments, leading us to discuss the causes, effects, and solutions to food waste.
Cutting food waste is a delicious way of saving money, helping to feed the world and protect the planet.
~ Tristram Stuart
Various Causes of Food Waste
Discussed below are the significant causes of food waste.
1. Lack of Appropriate Planning
One of the top contributors to food wastage is because of a lack of appropriate planning on the consumer’s part.
Sometimes people buy lots of food without appropriately planning when and how the food will be prepared for consumption.
Coupled with the contemporary schedules of work and appointments, people, therefore, tend to change food preparation plans or fail to remember to use them on time.
At times most people are not in control, leading to the expiry of the foods, after which they are wasted.
But that’s not the only way improper planning contributes to food wastage. You see, again, due to a lack of appropriate planning, people have poorly prepared food that doesn’t taste great. It all ends up as waste.
2. Purchase and Preparation of Excess Food
Most of the time, food is wasted by purchasing, preparing, or serving more than we need. When this happens, the excess food on the plate or cooking pot goes to waste.
Alternatively, the partially used food is sometimes put at the back of the fridge and never reused. The same applies to excess purchases that pass their expiration dates and therefore look, taste, and smell terrible. At the end of it all, all the excess ends up as waste food.
3. Errors in Industrial Processing and Keeping up With Food Safety Policies
Another significant driving factor for food wastage is the protocol on food safety. The food safety protocols give no room for error in industrial processing or any other compromise that diminishes the final food product quality.
As such, the confusions and errors that occur during industrial food processing mean that all food items that don’t meet the set standards are wasted.
Food processing companies must comply with high food safety regulations and thus establish no error margins.
In complying with the food safety policies, the companies in the sector waste lots of food since any small error means the food will be rejected, even if it’s simply due to imperfection in appearance or shape.
Overcooking, production trials, packaging defects, trial runs, and wrong sizes and weights result in imperfection and the eventual rejection of the foods.
4. Managerial, Financial, and Technical Constraints
This is mainly a challenge contributing to food wastage in developing countries.
The wastage occurs due to the constraints of improper management, inadequate finances, and technical difficulties in harvesting methods, storage, and cooling problems.
This is due to adverse weather conditions, processing, packaging, infrastructure, and marketing systems.
5. Over-preparation of Food in Restaurants, Hotels, and the Foodservice Industry
Most restaurants, hotels, and the food service industry alike have a tendency to over-preparing/producing food.
While the intention is good, especially in anticipation of high customer volume and the ability to not run out of the menu, over-preparation often leads to the wastage of all the unsold food.
Since the food service operations cannot quantify the amount of food consumed on average, the kitchens keep producing amounts thought to be enough but most of it is unnecessary.
Besides, some managers believe producing food in large batches minimizes costs, but in actual fact, it results in more waste than cook-to-order preparation or cooking in small batches.
6. Over Merchandizing and Ordering in Food Stores and Supermarkets
Over-merchandizing food items and products in retail centers, wholesale markets, and supermarkets often results in food loss.
Food service operations are habitually more focused on over-merchandizing in food stores and supermarkets by using beautiful and attractive displays, thereby creating the idea of abundance in an attempt to promote sales and customer satisfaction.
The overlooked aspect of over-merchandizing is the reason for this increased food waste. When people buy more than needed, the excess will often end up in the trash bin.
Over-ordering also leads to the expiry of food staff with a limited shelf life as some will remain unsold.
7. Consumer Behavior
Customers have different preferences, which highly influence purchasing behavior on food items.
Notably, the consumer behavior on focus here is the tendency of having a keen insight for good judgment, resulting in those who only prefer fresh vegetables and fruits and the restrictive must-display for shelf-life dates.
Such consumer behavior, more often than not, contributes to the wastage of food as most of the food items may remain on the shelves till expiry.
Also, such tendencies may force food service operators in restaurants and hotels to maintain extensive menu options and high-end services while assuring consistency, leading to food wastage.
Effects of Food Waste
Food waste’s consequences are severe: It depletes natural resources, degrades the environment, and constrains efforts to increase access to healthy diets for low-income populations, including others.
Some of the effects of food waste include the following;
1. Biodiversity Loss
Food wastage impacts biodiversity loss at a global level. Farmers have increasingly invaded wild areas to maximize agricultural yields in search of more fertile lands, leading to the extinction of different species.
Agricultural practices such as mono-cropping have also compounded biodiversity loss.
The mass rearing of livestock for consumption and the use of pesticides in crop production has also significantly contributed to;
Nitrogen, phosphorous, and chemical pollution in streams, rivers, and coastal waters, thus affecting marine life.
2. Wastage of 1/3 of the World’s Fertile Land Regions
According to research, the produced but unconsumed food accounts for approximately 1.4 billion hectares, constituting almost 1/3 of the planet’s agricultural land.
By looking at this from a well thought analytical angle, the world is wasting 30 percent of the world’s fertile land, which could be used for other meaningful purposes such as environmental research.
3. Blue Water Footprint
The volume of water used in agricultural food production is immense. Therefore, if 30 percent of all the food produced goes to waste, then it means that more than 30 percent of freshwater used in the production and processing of food also goes to waste.
Precise estimations indicate that food wastage is responsible for the wastage of nearly 250 cubic kilometers (km3) of water. This wastage is equivalent to thrice the volume of Lake Geneva.
It is also affirmed that throwing out a kilogram of beef wastes 50,000 liters of water in meat production. Similarly, 1000 liters of water is wasted if one glass of milk is poured down the drain.
4. Increased Carbon Footprint and Acceleration of Climate Change
The food produced and later goes to waste is estimated to be equivalent to 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, accelerating the impacts of climate change. Research also states that food waste is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The reason for this is the consideration for the energy wasted and the primary use of fossil fuels in food production, including processing, cooking, and transportation to various consumer markets worldwide.
5. Economic consequences
In addition to the environmental impacts, food wastage also results in direct economic costs. FAO’s report estimates the economic losses associated with food wastage are about $750 billion dollars per annum.
Amazing Solutions to Food Waste
Reducing food loss and waste is essential in a world where millions of people go hungry daily. When we reduce waste, we respect the labor, effort, investment, and precious resources (like water, seeds, feed, etc.) that go into producing it, not to mention the resources that go into transporting and processing it.
Here are some actions you can take to re-connect to food and what it stands for:
1. Balancing Food Production With Demand
Foremost, precedence should be centered on balancing food production with the demand to reduce the problem of food wastage. The first thing is to reduce using natural resources in food production.
Risk management tools can be applied in hotels, restaurants, and the food service industry, e.g., having a risk management checklist and restaurant technology software that help run operations and monitor orders and merchandising. This will ensure managers and chefs only produce and cook food according to demand or orders made.
Producing large batches of food has always resulted in food wastage. So in trying to save food, labor, and money, the hotels and the entire food service industry should work on producing small batches or using the cook-to-order option.
2. Improving Food Harvesting, Storage, Processing, and Distribution Processes
The second strategy should be placed on developing efficient technologies and production systems that better storage, harvesting, processing, and distribution processes.
Redistribution can be the initial strategy for supplying or distributing more food to where there is a need and reducing supply where food is in surplus.
Governments and NGOs should also improve harvesting, storage, and processing by availing subsidies and training on better production practices, especially in developing countries.
3. Food Waste Reduction Initiatives
Supermarkets, retail food outlets, big restaurants, and individual consumers alike can also work on their own tailored and creative efforts to reduce their food footprint.
For instance, individual consumers can reduce their food footprint by not necessarily placing a high preference for the very best food quality.
Sometimes even blemished food items are still edible or can be purchased and used to make dishes like soups. Over-merchandizing can also be evaded to minimize food wastage.
4. Consumers to Buy and Prepare Food With a Plan
Using meal plans to prepare food can go a long way in ending food disposal. Consumers should only buy food according to their plans or in small batches to reduce the food that goes to waste due to expiration after long storage periods.
5. Food Recycling
Food recycling efforts are underway, but the technologies and methods should be improved.
Starch-rich foodstuffs such as crisps, bread, biscuits, and breakfast cereals can be recycled into high-quality feeds for livestock.
Recycling food packaging materials can equally reduce the over-exploitation of virgin material. If it’s completely unfit for consumption, it can still be converted for other uses instead of being taken to landfills to emit methane gas.
6. Foodprint Campaigns
Campaigns for reducing food footprints can help fishers, farmers, supermarkets, food processors, individual consumers, and the local and national governments to work on strategies for preventing food wastage.
The UN and FAO have already launched such a campaign by putting emphasis on the “Think Eat Save – Reduce Your Foodprint” campaign slogan.
Moreover, with many more such campaigns, societies at large will be informed on ways to reduce their footprint and get the actual facts about environmental impacts. Ultimately, it will aid in solving the problem of food wastage.