A billion tons and even more essential, life-sustaining and nutritious food, goes to waste each year across the planet.
According to a 2011 report of United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, one-third of all food produced on Earth is either lost or wasted on the way from the farm to our bellies, and that is about 1.3 billion metric tons of food loss per year.
Without any change in that proportion, the wasted food amount will rise to 2.1 billion tons per year by 2030, as per the experts.
Waste of food isn’t just an ethical problem but also an environmental problem as well.
As per the U.N., agriculture along with meat, dairy and rice production causes at least 8.4% of the total emission of greenhouse gas across the globe. About 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gasses get added per year for emissions from food that is either lost or wasted. It implies that after China and the U.S. if uneaten food were its own country, it would most likely be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Members of the U.N. adopted a planet-wide goal for reducing food waste by 50% by the year 2030 to tackle this issue. However, precisely how to accomplish that goal was not part of the conversation.
Nevertheless, now, a global action plan is ready with the researchers.
To accomplish the U.N.’s ambitious goal, a team of experts who study food loss and waste lay out a strategy in a report published this week by the World Resources Institute. It will require just everyone from farmers to eaters to change their way of doing now.
“The problem is dispersed across so many actors, and we all play a role,” said Craig Hanson, who studies sustainable food systems at WRI, a global research institution. “Everyone has to do their part and follow through. It’s got to be a full-chain kind of approach.”
According to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, about 35% of the total food produced never gets consumed by humans in North America, along with 36% in sub-Saharan Africa and 34% in Europe, South America and industrialized Asia. The region’s total food becoming waste in South and Southeast Asia is just 26%, and they seemed to have disclosed the wrong figure.
As per WRI analysts, 650 pounds of food are lost or wasted per man, woman and child each year in North America which is more than twice as much as in South and Southeast Asia with 243 pounds wasted per person per year.
Food also gets lost along the chain. In North America, 58% of total food loss occurs at the consumption stage, while 6% gets lost during storage and handling. As per FAO data, just 6% of total food loss occurs at the consumption phase, but 36% is lost during storage and handling in sub-Saharan Africa.
Which means single intervention will not going to work for every region on the planet.
Access to solar-powered cold storage facilities along with airtight grain storage bags if improved could reduce the amount of food lost of developing countries radically. In the wealthier nations, consumers will need to be convinced to buy more fruits and vegetables that may look “imperfect” but are fine to eat. A new report says, replacing “sell by” dates with “use by” dates by manufacturers would help reduce food waste in wealthy countries.
The new report proposes a simple three-step system called “Target-Measure-Act” that can be implemented across the planet.
The first part of this strategy is establishing clear goals. The report’s authors know this can be accomplished as it has already occurred in countries containing about half of the world’s population, including Australia, China, Japan, Norway, the Arab Emirates, Vietnam, and members of the European and African unions. Additionally, food retailers and manufacturers including Kroger, Walmart, Wegmans, Kellogg Co., and PepsiCo in the U.S. and elsewhere have made commitments to reduce food loss and waste to half in their operations by 2030.
The start is decent. However, to reach the U.N.’s target by 2030, more countries will require setting their own goals of food loss and waste.
“Ideally within a couple of years, 90% or more of the world will live in a country with an explicit food loss waste reduction target,” Hanson said.
Governments and industries need to have quality data for policymakers to identify what the authors call “hot spots” and target those points directly to know how much food is being wasted and where.
Over the last two decades, steps have already been taken by many countries to improve their measurements of lost and wasted food.
In estimating food loss, the UK has been a global leader, counting countrywide food waste for 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2018. The U.S. has been estimating since 2015 and Japan since 2001. Other countries, including Argentina, Kenya, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Zambia are also doing.
Only concrete action will help reduce lost and wasted food across the globe, the report authors say.
It might look like South Korea’s pay-as-you-throw policy implemented in 2013 under which residents of Seoul pay for the food they waste by weight.
Alternatively, North American farmers are allowing nonprofit organizations to collect and redistribute unsaleable unharvested crops to food pantries and soup kitchens.
Besides, it may be similar to the catering companies that are keeping better track of food items most likely to be leftover and making them less from next time.
Not everyone studying about food loss and waste seems to be optimistic about meeting the world’s 2030 target.
“Many governments and businesses are giving more lip service to the topic of reducing food loss and waste than taking concrete action,” said Martin Gooch, chief executive of Value Chain Management International, who works on food waste issues.
However, the report’s authors are hopeful.
“Almost all the knowledge, technologies and practices exist to address to meet the goal,” said contributor Dirk Maier, who studies post-harvest engineering at Iowa State University. “What will influence whether it is accomplished is partly political will, and the commitment by our economic supply chains to make things work more effectively and efficiently.”