Does food waste really matter?

I talk and write a lot about food waste, but does it really matter? Does throwing away spoiled spinach once in a while really make a difference in the grand scheme of things?

The waste adds up and when it is happening all around the world (albeit for different reasons and in different ways) it truly does matter. Here is why.

Land

Food is produced using intensive farming which diminishes soil fertility. By wasting food that was produced on that land, the land was unnecessarily pressured. Poor soil quality leads to increased synthetic inputs which can pollute the land and lead to the loss of arable land. In 2007, 1.4 billion hectacres of land were utilized to produce food that was wasted. To put this in perspective, this equates to a surface larger than Canada and India put together.

Water

Agriculture utilizes a whopping 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawal. Wasted food squanders water. In 2007, the amount of wasted water equated to almost three times the volume of Lake Geneva.

Climate Change

Food production and agriculture depends on fossil-fuel energy and petroleum and is used in nearly every part of food production. This, as we know, contributes to climate change.

Further, wasted food in landfills decomposes anaerobically yielding methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This further exacerbates climate change. Food is the primary source of landfill gas and the largest component of materials in landfills. In the US, this gas is responsible for 17% of the US’s methane emissions.

Biodiversity

Food production contributes to biodiversity loss through habitat changes, overexploitation, pollution and of course, climate change. Producing food and then wasting it unnecessarily pressures our valuable and beautiful ecosystems. About 70% of all the fish caught by certain types of fishing (trawling) gets discarded.

So food waste does matter as it detrimentally and unnecessarily wastes resources and impacts the environment.

Further, these are only some of the effects on the environment. There are many more and there are also effects on the economy and on people.

Economy

The global economic cost of food waste is $750 billion US dollars (when using 2009 producer prices). That is about the 2011 GDP of Turkey or Switzerland.

Social Aspects

Currently, there are roughly 900 million hungry people in the world. Further, food production will need to increase by 60% by 2050 to meet our consumption and production trends with an ever growing population. Many more will go hungry and wasting food presents a missed opportunity to feed these people.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are several other social justice issues related to food production and thus, food wastage.

In studying sustainability, we take a systems approach and we consider the key players, their worldviews and the potential impacts of various issues on the environment, on the economy and on people (the social realm).

Food waste detrimentally impacts the environment, the economy and people. So I believe one way to reduce our food waste and these impacts is to consider our own personal impact and realize that they do add up and they do make a difference. That way we can work to change them.

On a more optimistic note, this can be empowering because you DO have the power to catalyze change. You can make a difference. We can waste less together. We can create a better world.

For more useful information:

http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/nr/sustainability_pathways/docs/Factsheet_FOOD-WASTAGE.pdf