The Global Food Wastage Crisis and the Fight to Reduce its Environmental Footprint

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In the second part of the two-part series leading up to the World Food Day on October 16th, we will be essaying the problems of Global Food Wastage Crisis and the fight to reduce its environmental footprint. About what you can do to fight this crisis. 

Credit: Pixabay
A bag of croissant wasted Credit: Pixabay

Are you binning surplus or ugly-looking but good food? Well, think twice before you do it next time since it costs much more than you can imagine. The demand for ‘blemish-free’ farm produce has been inflicting heavy burdens on the earth and its people – climate  change, pollution and hunger.

As per a 2011 report, food produced from about a third of available agricultural land (1.4 billion hectares) is either wasted intentionally or lost unintentionally along the food distribution chain. This food, when stacked in 20-cubic metre skips would be enough to reach all the way to the moon and encircle it once.

Meanwhile, 795 million people suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition. The Food and agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that the world’s hungry populace can be undoubtedly fed, if food waste were to reduce by a mere 25%.

Read more about the issue of food wastage in the part-1 of this series here.

Ways to reduce the food wastage footprint

The UN recommends the 3R’s–Reduce, Recycle and Reuse– for individual households, producers, governments, and large food industries to make choices that will ultimately lead to sustainable consumption and production patterns, and in turn a make this planet a better place to live.

Below are the key points from FAO’s toolkit to reduce food wastage footprint, which also highlights some some inspiring success stories and strongly insists using landfills as the last resort of food waste disposal.

REDUCE

  • Raising awareness about food wastage
  • Improving communication along the food supply chain to match demand and supply
  • Developing improved food harvest, storage, processing, transportation and retailing processes

REUSE

  • Developing market for products that would not survive in the market otherwise
  • Redistributing food to those in need
  • Reusing food unfit for human consumption as livestock feed

RECYCLE

  • Recreating food from by-products and food waste
  • Anerobic digestion
  • Composting
  • Incineration with energy production
  • Rendering

Battling food wastage: Stories from across the world

The key to devising policies and employing technologies or schemes to efficiently combat food waste lies in identifying the stage of food supply chain at which major wastage happens. As this factor varies between countries or even regions within, the strategies to be administered would also differ.

It is also crucial to reform people’s outlook towards food as cultural and traditional factors play a lead role. For example, the societal pressure on conducting extravagant parties/ weddings, people ordering surplus food at restaurants and children not being educated on this issue.

In the economically developed part of the world, most wastage happens at the consumption stage.

The US government along with the UN have pledged to halve avoidable food waste by 2030. Producers, retailers and campaign groups have also vowed to reduce food loss under the ReFED initiative. The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington work towards a resilient food system that supports environment and public health. Several private companies such as the Imperfect Produce, a delivery service for “ugly” food, and Food cowboy that re-routes rejected food also fight against food waste.

European countries have recognized the gravity of the issue and actions such as revision of food management policies, sponsoring campaigns, and implementing tax subsidies for food waste projects have gained momentum.

For example, Denmark has more initiatives against food waste in Europe than any other state. While France has passed a legislation that penalizes supermarkets for deliberately discarding unsold food and forces them to donate to charities or animals instead, the recent Italian law also persuades its citizens to take home leftovers from restaurants, which is appreciated as a cultural makeover.

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is UK charity that plays a major role in food waste reduction. Retail giants Tesco and Marks and Spencers in partnership with Fareshare charity and Neighbourly app respectively, support the movement by redistributing surplus food from its UK stores. Germany, Switzerland, and Austria combat food waste through the growing online platform Foodsharing and volunteer food savers deposit surplus but edible food in communal shelves and fridges. A summary of tech innovations in the UK for this cause can be found here.

In Asia, Singapore’s National Environmental agency has conducted surveys and campaigns, taken measures to install recycling machines at hawker centres and also set a system in place for food wastage reports from shopping malls and hotels. Efforts from the private sector such as Zero waste SG, Savefoodcut waste, and Green future solutions dedicated to eliminate waste and encourage sustainable living in Singapore and charities distributing excess food are gaining momentum.

The Australian Research Council Food Processing Training Centre works in the context of helping food processors dispose unavoidable food waste such as orange peels in a meaningful way. Research to identify cures to fight diseases such as prostrate cancer, Herpes, and Alzheimer’s is underway. Retailers Harris Farm Markets and Woolworths have started their own Imperfect Picks and Odd Bunch campaigns, under which less-than-perfect food is sold at reduced prices. Innovative products such as AquaBotanical, a new bottled water made from a by-product of the fruit and vegetable industries, have emerged.

On the contrary, awareness in developing nations is slowly picking up and governments are struggling to formulate policies owing to different political and economic reasons. However, several non-profit organisations and good samaritans talk the matter into their hands, try to identify and resolve local problems.

Following the western models, some of the urban Asian cities have installed community fridges (Dubai, Saudi, Kochi, Coimbatore) and redistribution platforms through intelligent labelling, volunteer groups, and mobile apps such as the Dabbawalas of Mumbai (video), No Food Waste app and the Robin hood army (India and Pakistan-video) to mitigate consumption-level wastage and feed the poor. However, the problem still largely lies in the harvest and storage stages (China, Infographic of India).

Research on tackling food wastage in China has revealed eclectic factors including people’s attitude. Individual contributors like Zhang Qinyu, who rescued about 3000 tonnes of fruits through e-commerce, need to be encouraged by the public as well as governments of developing nations.

UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) provides training to farmers in improving farm management practices, purchasing new technology storage, and equipment handling. It aims to reduce post-harvest food losses for low-income farmers in Uganda by providing simple storage facilities such as silos, granaries, and grain storage bags. Despite financial and political constraints, WFP continues its efforts to ensure food security in Africa (South Sudan) and Asia (Afghanistan, Iraq).

Although a simple solution is hard to come by, the crisis appears to have improved worldwide according to recent statistics. Still, there are miles to go before we can stop. Let’s think, eat and save!

Source: The Guardian, Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN), The middle ground