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The Modern Phenomenon That Is Food Waste

Woman Scraping Food Leftovers Into Garbage Bin The old adage of “Waste not, want not” has long gone with the USA wasting 30 to 40% of their food while Britons dump 6 million tons of edible food every year. The wealthier the country, the more food waste there is. In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. That is totally unnecessary. And yet there are people going without even in those wealthy countries.

Roughly 80% of discarded food is actually edible

Dr Davy Vanham of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission says that in some ways it is good that the high wastage is avoidable because it means that something can actually be done about it. But will it? I know from just my own extended family members that many of them are almost paranoiad about “sell by” dates and, the very minute these dates are reached, into the trash the food goes. Studies have found that vegetables, fruit and cereals make up most of the food waste - obviously because of their short shelf life. But meat comes close behind which, as its production is high in resources usage (mostly nitrogen and water), can have an acute and detrimental effect on the environment.

How to avoid food waste

The amount of food waste produced globally each year is more than enough to feed the 900 million hungry people in the world so you can totally disregard that old chestnut about GMO food being necessary to feed the world! Food waste means wasted water, energy and land. In addition, all the trash that builds up from discarded packaging, and the greenhouse gases emitted during production and disposal processes, all contribute to the waste.

In the home

  • The education of children in schools on this subject so that they in turn educate their parents.
  • Realizing that you can freeze various food items even after they have spent a couple of days in the refrigerator.
  • Learning to compost all vegetable and fruit waste including peelings to use on your own garden or veggie patch.
  • Avoiding throwing into the regular trash can but taking advantage of a food waste bin collection where possible. Local authorities in many places are starting to install anaerobic digesters. In these digesters, bacteria break down the food waste and release methane as a by product. The methane is then captured and used as a renewable source of energy to power the treatment plant. After the digestion process, the leftover material can be composted and used as a natural fertilizer.
  • Practising FIFO or first in, first out. When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry and put new products in the back so that the older ones get used up first.
  • Reducing portion sizes is an easy way to reduce food waste - and your waist line! When eating out with family or friends, consider splitting the dish so you don't waste half of the giant portion sizes found at many restaurants.
  • Monitoring what you throw away. Designate a week in which you make the effort to write down everything you throw out. If you are throwing away the same items on a regular basis, it is time for a re-think.
  • Taking stock by noting upcoming expiration dates on foods you already have at home, and planning meals around those products that are closest to their expiration.

In the stores

  • Getting supermarkets and shops to drastically lower their prices when goods are nearing their sell by dates so that these items are not thrown away but sold off cheaply to those in need.
  • Following the French example of having special cheaper aisles where non perfect fruit and veggies are sold. Many fruits and vegetables are thrown away because their size, shape, or colors don’t quite match what we or bureaucracy think these items “should” look like. Most of the time, these items are perfectly good to eat.

There are many who care about food waste...

You only have to go here to to see how many initiatives to reduce food waste there are out there while Food Recovery Network is the largest student movement against food waste and hunger in America. I have spent many years living in different parts of Africa and, with so many hungry mouths to feed, there is no food wastage there. Even in urban areas, supermarkets and restaurants will donate any left over food to shelters and charities.