One third of the food produced globally is thrown away. In the United States, the figure is closer to 40%. This information comes from a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) report called Global Food Losses and Food Waste that was released in late May.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all facts reported in this article are from the FAO’s Global Food Losses and Food Waste report.
Developed Countries are the Worst Offenders
According to the FAO report, the amount of food wasted per capital is significantly higher in the developed world than in developing countries. For example, per capita food waste in Europe and North America ranges between 95 and 115 kg (209 to 254 pounds) per year, whereas it is as low as 6 to 11 kg (13 to 24 pounds) in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia.
Every Link in the “Food Chain” is Dumping Food
There is food waste at every stage of food production, including agriculture, postharvest, processing, distribution and consumption.
In North American and Oceania, the overall food waste per capita is higher than in Europe. However, in Europe the food waste from industry is higher than it is in North America. That means that comparatively, the companies involved in the food industry are more wasteful in Europe and consumers are more wasteful in North America and Oceania. One reason for this may be aesthetic standards that some foods have to meet in Europe, such as a specific bend on the banana or the need for carrots to be straight so that customers can peel them more easily.
The amount of food wasted by the food industry versus consumers also depends on the type of food. When it comes to cereals, meat and milk products, consumers are responsible for a higher proportion of waste. However, when it comes to oilseeds and root and tubers, the food industry is responsible for more of the waste.
Food Waste = Energy Waste
According to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, two percent of all US energy is expended on food that is ultimately thrown away (source: Climate Progress). Food production is incredibly resource-intensive. Add food transportation on top of that and and the contribution of wasted food to carbon emissions and climate change is significant.
Perhaps one of the most shocking findings in the study is that food waste by consumers in industrialized countries (222 million tons) is almost equivalent to the total food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). This certainly brings up visions of parents saying “finish your dinner…there are people starving in Africa.” While licking our plates clean is not going to feed people in Africa, these disturbing figures certainly do highlight the extent to which we take our food security for granted in industrialized countries.
How Do We Reduce Waste?
There are obviously a lot of steps that companies involved in the various stages of the food industry need to take to reduce their part of the waste. But as consumers, there are plenty of things we can do too.
Some of those things include:
- Don’t buy in bulk if you’re not going to be able to eat all of the food before it goes bad or find a friend or neighbor to split it with.
- Shop more frequently for smaller quantities so that you will consume fairly quickly, instead of doing a big shopping trip once per week and then having things go bad before you have a chance to eat them.
- Shop at farmer’s markets and buy local produce in the stores that you shop in. That food is fresher and won’t go bad as quickly.
- Create meals plans and shopping lists instead of buying whatever looks appealing when you are in the store. If you have no plans to use that great looking eggplant, you are likely to toss it out.
- If your store has 50% off or other similar sales on foods that are about to expire, shop there for tonight’s dinner. You’ll save money and help reduce waste at the retail level.
- Freeze or can things that you can’t eat before they go bad.
That is just a beginning. There are many more things we can do. What else do you do to reduce food waste in your home?
Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.
Image credit: sporkist on flickr