What is the clearest indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with our society? Food waste.
Fighting food waste does matter
Perhaps most consumers cannot connect all the dots. Perhaps throwing away good leftovers or fresh food doesn’t really matter to them, because they can always buy more food. And, well, as long as you always can buy more food, it doesn’t really matter whether you trash it or not. Does it?
The planet’s population has just reached 7 billion, of which almost 1 billion are starving. Yet, FAO estimates that more than 30% of the world's food production ends up as garbage. That puts the annual food waste at a staggering 1.3 billion tons - or enough to feed 3 billion people. As we look at the climate perspective, it is estimated that 14% of the world's CO2 emissions are caused by food waste alone.
By 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion. To meet the demand food production must increase by an estimated 70%. Therefore food waste, which today still seems to be an invisible problem, must become one of the main focus areas in the future.
What consumers can do
While the food waste in the developing countries is caused by post harvest food losses, food waste in the developed countries is mainly caused by retailers and consumers.
As a consumer, you can do a great deal to fight food waste. By doing so, you can both contribute to lesser CO2 emissions and save your money – a win-win situation. First of all, you have to remember that as a consumer, you have a great power: you have the power over the retailers - they do not have the power over you. While most of the retailers want to force their customers to buy more food than they actually need, the consumers have the power to buy only what they actually need. Planning, shopping lists, cooking of leftovers, sharing food with neighbors are some examples of good tools against food waste. The most important is to buy only what you actually need – and use what you have bought.
What retailers can do
As a retailer, you can take several measures against food waste. For example, the British retail chain Tesco started selling last minute food by offering large discounts. Many consumers buy and cook food the very same day, and thus both food waste and money loss is avoided. The Danish retail chain Rema 1000, inspired by the work of our Stop Wasting Food movement, dropped all quantity discounts in the chain’s all 200+ Danish stores and thereby contributes to less food waste. Many single people don’t need large quantity discounts and family-size portions. By not forcing them to buy more than they actually need, large amount of food waste can be avoided.
Good edible food, which for legal reasons can no longer be sold in the stores, can be donated to shelters and refugee centers. This summer, Stop Wasting Food movement coordinated the donation of 14 tons of good surplus food - 26 pallets with 38,842 tins of red kidney beans and corn - to three Danish Red Cross refugee centers in Denmark. It’s a drop in the ocean, but it still matters. All retailers can get in contact with a shelter or a refugee center nearby and donate good surplus food. You don’t have to be a charity organization to do it. Thereby, good food can help the ones in need – and food waste will be avoided.
What the packaging industry can do
Food packaging, although it’s a great tool to prevent food waste, also contributes to a great deal of food waste. Sometimes up to 25% of food is wasted because it is stuck in the food packaging. I was one of the speakers at FAO’s congress SAVE FOOD at Interpack Düsseldorf and it was my pleasure to learn that intelligent food packaging is now being developed, along with a focus on nanotechnology. The Danish Arla Foods is now developing a yoghurt packaging that will prevent the loss of yoghurt.
Food packaging that can be opened and reopened could also be a good solution. We need to remember that over-excessive packaging is bad for the environment, yet the Swedish scientists say that the environmental impact of food waste is much larger than the environmental impact of food packaging. If a right balance can be achieved, the food packaging can be a significant tool against food waste.
What the canteens and restaurants can do
Canteens and restaurants, both in private and public sector, contribute to large amounts of food waste. The latest survey from Danish Diet & Nutrition Association reveals that 95% of restaurant managers indicate that food waste occurs mostly outside the kitchen door by the restaurant and canteen clients.
Many canteens and restaurants in Denmark are already fighting food waste. Some have introduced doggy bags. Others have introduced plates of smaller sizes, which encourage the canteen guests to fill up their plates with only amount of food they can eat. Some canteens sell leftovers at cheaper prizes. One restaurant has even introduced fines for wasting buffet food, and the money from the fines is donated to food charities.
What the food industry can do
The food industry and farmers in developed countries are usually quite good in avoiding food losses and food waste. However, there will always be a degree of unavoidable food waste that cannot be prevented. That unavoidable food waste can be of a good use for biogas. More and more biogas plants are being developed in Europe – and one day the retailers and farmers will no longer need to send the food waste to landfill, but will send it to biogas plants.
That, however, needs a solid infrastructure and financial support from the governments. The biogas industry also has a great potential of creating thousand of new jobs, which is quite valuable especially in the times of financial crisis.
We must act
So, the message is clear: let’s all stop wasting food! Let’s turn the global tragedy of food waste into a new global potential. Less food waste can save millions of Euros and bring big economic profits. It can create thousands of new jobs, it can contribute to lesser CO2 emissions - and in the long run, it can revolutionize the entire food industry.
So, ladies and gentlemen, what are we waiting for?