We live in a world where a considerable proportion of people in developing countries are starving, while in developed nations, a growing number of countries are dealing with over-consumption of food and increasing food waste production.
Unfortunately, even with all of our technology and resources, this is a growing problem world-wide. While the problem may sound very simple, the reasoning behind the problem is very complex. With inequality around the world increasing, and the implications of climate change coming into effect, this is a problem that is poised to only get worse.
What is Food Waste?
Food waste can generally be broken down into two categories:
In a perfect world, this would be an avoidable problem. This food waste is edible food that is thrown in the bin, fed to pets or composted. This essentially comes down to consumer awareness and behaviors. This waste generally comes about from buying too much, cooking too much, or the incorrect storage of perishable food.
There are two main sources of food waste within the business world that generate food waste en mass:
Businesses that sell food as an ingredient (eg, supermarkets, Fresh Fruit Grocers, Convenience Stores etc). These businesses produce food waste from damaged stock and produce that isn’t used before the ‘sell-by’, ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ date. Food waste also occurs due to inefficiencies in the food supply chain, poor handling and preparation, or unpopular portion sizes.
Businesses that sell prepared food-ready-to-eat (eg Cafes, Restaurant, Clubs, Pubs etc). These businesses produce food waste from poor stock management, left-overs on customers plates, fluctuations in patronage, promotions and portion sizing.
Is Food Waste Avoidable?
Yes and no. While many food businesses – supermarkets, food retailers, restaurants, cafés, clubs, pubs, caterers and others – are actively reducing their food waste and spreading the word to their customers and communities, a 0% food waste scenario is not realistic.
Reducing food waste at home and through business practices is absolutely necessary, this needs to be paired with consumer education and programs for recycling to create a completely sustainable system.
There is also a large component of unavoidable food waste. This food waste (regardless of whether from a household or business) is food that cannot generally be sold or eaten. Examples include bones, fat and skin, mussel or shellfish shells, tea bags and coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit and vegetable peel, pips and stones.
Why Does it Matter?
Wasting food is a waste of the resources used in its production, such as water and energy. Food waste is a serious environmental and social problem that can have a huge global impact.
Less food waste means less pollution
When food breaks down in landfill, together with other organic materials, it becomes the main contributor to the generation of methane – a gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
The breakdown of food waste in landfill also releases nutrients and these can filter into the surrounding environment, polluting groundwater and waterways.
Conserving precious resources
When edible food is thrown away, the energy, labour and other resources invested in its production, processing, packaging and distribution are all thrown away with it.
The food system represents a great part of our environmental footprint. If current population and consumption trends continue, the world will need to produce about twice as much food by 2050, in a changing climate, with higher prices for energy, water and fertilizer.
Saving food saves water
Food accounts for 50% of total household water use in NSW compared with 11% used directly in washing, cleaning and gardens. Being one of the driest continents on earth means we cannot afford to waste water through wasting our food.
People are hungry
There is no good reason to throw out edible food while others are hungry. Businesses can donate food to charity, and position themselves as being socially responsible. With an estimated 40% of global food production going to waste, poverty driven hunger could potentially be a thing of the past.
Food businesses can be more profitable
Food businesses that cut food waste can reduce their running costs – It is a very simple equation, every dollar that goes to food wastage (and the collection of food wastage) is a potential dollar of profit.