Food waste and climate change: how do we fight climate change by reducing food waste?
It is worth considering that every time you throw leftovers away, you’re not only wasting your money, time and energy, but unwanted food that ends up in landfills-contributing to one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Food production systems from farm to fork, including growing, processing, packaging, and transporting the food we eat all contributes to climate change. When food ends up in landfills, it rots and releases a significant amount of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
Wasting food is a misuse of valuable human and natural resources. Around one-quarter of the calories the world produces is food that is never eaten and thrown away. To produce this food, we need land, water, energy, and fertilizer inputs which all come at an environmental cost. In other words, discarding food means animals are unnecessarily raised and slaughtered, chemicals are sprayed for no use, land together with labours are spent on producing nutritious crops that never nourish people.
What causes food waste?
Supply chain losses
According to the United Nations, about one-third of all the food produced in the world ends up as rubbish before it gets to the table. Poor storage and handling techniques, including lack of refrigeration, spoilage in transport and processing cause substantial losses in the supply chain which accounts for 15% of food emissions.
Wasted by retailers and consumers
Wasted food from retailers and consumers are responsible for the other 9% of food emissions. The reasons for food waste in this sector can vary. In this multicultural world, constantly leaving a small amount of food on the plate shows politeness to the host in some cultures. Another reason is that in many developed countries, people can simply access lots of cheap supplies which makes consumers less concerned about what they store in their fridges and put on their plates. It may not be easy to quantify exactly how much food we’re wasting at a household level. However, Kate Parizeau, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, and colleagues conducted research involving the waste generated by 94 families living in Guelph, Ontario. They found that each family threw out around 3kg of avoidable food waste each week, accounting for 23.3kg of carbon emissions. This results in economic losses (dollar value), nutritional losses (calories, vitamins, and minerals) and environmental impacts (global warming potential, land, and water usage).
Why do food waste and climate change matter?
Food waste to climate change
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one-third of global greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, and around 26% of the food production ends up as wastage which contributes to approximately 3.3 billion tones CO2eq of global greenhouse gas emissions either from the supply chain losses or consumers. The special report ‘Climate Change and Land’ from the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that food wastage is responsible for around 8%-10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, leading to global warming. In other words, if food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest share of greenhouse gases after the US and China.
Climate change increases food waste
A significant amount of greenhouse gases from waste food in the landfill results in climate change. The more climate changes and the more that extreme climate events become usual. With changes in rainfall patterns, farmers encounter threats from flooding and drought. Both extremes can destroy crops. Rain doesn’t guarantee healthy crops as higher rainfalls or flooding can produce toxic mould on crops and those crops become wastage eventually. While drought will dry out fertile topsoil that farmers depend on for productivity. Higher temperatures increase crops’ water needs, making them even more vulnerable during dry periods. These will cause lower yields, reducing food suppliers, higher food prices, a loss of nutritional value and supply chain disruptions which increasingly affect food security.
How do we help prevent food waste at home?
Here are a few easy tips from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to help you get started with preventing food waste at home.
Plan ahead and buy only what you need
By taking a moment to write out your dinners weekly, you can save money, time, and eat healthier food. Create a grocery list based on your plan and what you already have in the fridge. If you buy no more than what you expect to use, you will be more likely to keep it fresh and use it all.
Use your freezer
Sometimes you may forget or buy too much fresh fruits and vegetables. Freezing fruits and vegetables for their maximum freshness, they’ll taste even better and last longer, helping you to eat more of them. You can use glass jars to freeze your food to avoid using plastic containers. For small items such as berries, you only need to wash and drain them and pour loosely into a jar. Bigger items such as vegetables, should be cut and portioned before pouring in a jar. This will prevent glass jars breaking as we freeze them.
Prepare perishable foods soon after shopping
When you get home from the store, try to organize your groceries in proper storages. For an easy cooking meal, take the time to wash, dry, chop, dice, slice, and place your fresh food in clear storage containers. While some food such as bread, sliced fruit, or meat that you won't be able to eat in time should be organized and put in the freeze ahead of time for use throughout the month. Keep in mind that not all food waste is equal when it comes to carbon emissions. Meat and dairy products have much higher carbon emissions than fruit and vegetables. Therefore, reducing the amount of waste meat will have a larger impact than fruit and vegetables.
Be creative with leftovers
Before going out for groceries shopping, it is worth considering the food you already have and make the most of what's in your fridge and kitchen. Some fruits and vegetables that are beyond ripe may not look good. However, these imperfect things can produce sweet smoothies, jams, and tomato sauces then preserve them which taste delicious.
Preventing food waste is an effective way to mitigate its impact on climate change. By avoiding impulse and bulk food purchases, demand will decrease and that will lead us to a system where we no longer produce more food than we need. Excess consumerism is what drives the whole problem. If we avoid producing food that we don't eat, we can save not only carbon emissions, but also the land, water, and energy that would have been used to make it. It may take some effort, but reducing the amount of food you throw away will reward you with a fatter wallet as well as a healthier planet.