By Rc Diedrich
Food waste is one of the modern tragedies of our world. The planet’s wealth and consequent qualities of living are unequally distributed, favoring a select few who can afford to be wasteful, while disenfranchising a large portion of the population.
While reducing food waste is the obvious solution, it isn’t an easy thing to achieve. Different places struggle with different types of food waste so there is not a one size fits all solution to the problem. It is crucial that each individual country puts more effort on reducing their own waste and allow food waste to take center stage.
A heck of a waste
According to Earth.org, one third of the food intended for human consumption is wasted or lost.
This amount, roughly 1.3 billion tons, is sufficient to feed almost 3 billion people. In addition, food waste accounts for roughly 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. This not only damages the environment but also perpetuates the problem of food waste as the conditions for producing food become increasingly complicated.
While food waste is a global issue that affects the entire world, where it occurs along the different stages of producing, selling and consuming also varies by country. In developing countries, roughly 40% of food waste occurs after harvesting, and during the processing stages. Conversely, in developed countries, roughly 40% of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. According to Deena Robinson of Earth.org, “at the retail level, a shocking amount of food is wasted because of aesthetic reasons; in fact, in the US, more than 50% of all produce thrown away in the US is done so because it is deemed to be “too ugly” to be sold to consumers- this amounts to about 60 million tons of fruits and vegetables.”
So while developing countries tend to struggle with technological problems like harvesting and processing, developed countries “struggle” with cosmetic problems like perceptions and appearances of the products.
A global issue with major consequences
While food waste itself is detrimental and immoral, it also has larger impacts on other world issues. For example, food waste alone uses up to 21% of our freshwater supply. If this water wasn’t lost that way, it could be used by 9 billion people, providing those in need 200 liters per person per day.
Food waste per se put aside, the simple production of food uses a disproportionate amount of water. Though pastures and agricultural fields cover one-third of the earth’s land surfaces, they consume three-quarters of the world’s freshwater resources. With the knowledge of how much food ends up getting wasted, this usage of freshwater is unreasonable.
That said, earth’s population is growing and large quantities of food need to be produced. The world’s population is projected to hit 9 billion people by around 2050. In other words, if the world is to meet the food demands of this population, it must increase its production by 70%.
While food waste has clear negative impacts on a variety of environmental and human aspects of our world, the trend of waste is continuing. This is causing economic problems, specifically for farmers who lose income when food is wasted. At the same time, these losses cause consumer prices to increase, incentivizing the conservation of food. Though we will need to both increase our overall food production and its efficiency to support a growing population, agricultural practices make this necessity increasingly difficult to achieve. Around the world, more than 68 billion tons of top-soil is eroded every year, 100 times faster than it can naturally be replenished. This leads to artificial supplements which temporarily allow for agricultural production but destroy the soil in the long run and contaminate water supplies.
Paradoxes and inequities
When investigating food waste, it quickly becomes apparent that the world can do better. While some countries struggle to get their food to consumers, others struggle to get consumers to eat the food. While mass distribution of food is no simple task, the grotesque amount of waste is unacceptable in light of world hunger and disproportionate resource distribution. Not only is food waste a problem in itself, but it further perpetuates other environmental issues like the world’s freshwater supply and agriculture. As the population grows, humanity will have to find a way to feed itself. Though increasing production might temporarily remedy the problem, it will lead to increased waste and further detriments to the environment. Therefore, countries need to think of ad hoc realistic policies to decrease waste from the food industry while being economically viable and environmentally efficient.
Rc Diedrich is a student in English at SLU-Madrid.
To quote this article, please use the following reference: Rc. Diedrich (2022), “Food Waste: Time to Act” https://crisesobservatory.es/food-waste-time-to-act/
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