The devastating reality of “food waste” in the world
By Arash Yaghma
Why does it happen?
Let me share a hidden truth about grocery shopping with you:
You go to a grocery store every day and see the rows of fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables – packaged and in bulk – sitting on the shelves and shining of freshness. Every day when you finish shopping, you notice that the freshness of those fruits and vegetables do not wear off by the passage of time! How is that possible? Well, it’s not!
Every night, all the fruits and vegetables that lose their fresh looks, even by a little, are thrown away and replaced by new ones. The same thing happens to all other packaged foods in the shelves. There are several reasons for this problem, among them are:
- Sell-by-date situation in stores that comes from misunderstanding the phrase “Good until…”by either buyers, sellers or both. “Good until” is usually mistaken by “expired by” and leads to disposal of items whose ‘good until” dates are due or near.
- Damaged items, will be thrown away. Packaged products which are dented during shipping are usually taken off the shelves, even if the food inside of them isn’t compromised.
However, the most important reason for food waste in grocery stores is that customers, especially in North America and Western Europe, buy their groceries based on how they look; they have become very “picky”, if you will.
The situation is the same for restaurants, and hotels. All the food that don’t sell well and all the left overs end up in garbage cans.
Retailers and restaurants (and hotels) together are responsible for about 20 per cent of the food waste. Even with almost 35 percent wastage in processing and farming put in account, still the biggest actor in this case are consumers. Take a look at this chart to see how big of a problem it is:
In 2014, it was estimated that 40 percent of the total food production in Canada goes to waste. It was thought before that this amount costs around 31 billion Dollars, but with FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) stating that the amount doesn’t represent the true cost of food waste, recalculations raised it to 107 billion Dollars.
According to FAO, every year about one third, or 1.3 billion tonnes of globally produced food goes to waste. United States and Europe (EU) with respectively 70 million and 88 million tonnes are responsible for about160 million tonnes of the global food waste.
The data collected by FAO in 2014 shows that the amount of food wasted by consumers in developed countries (mostly North America, EU members and Australia) in a year, equals the entire food production of Central African countries.
Why does it matter?
According to that latest statistics from FAO in the period of 2014-16, about 10 percent of the world population were undernourished:
Remember what we said about Central African countries? From 232.5 Million people suffering from hunger in Africa, 220 million live in Sub-Saharan regions. As was shown before in this article, these are people whom can be easily fed using only the amount of food wasted by consumers in developed countries.
In addition , food waste is not just about wasting food:
- A large volume of water that is used to grow that food,(estimated about 250 km³) is wasted
- The food waste that is composted create GHG (Greenhouse Gases) such as Methane and CO2 that are the main cause of the Global Warming.
- 28 per cent of the world’s agricultural area is used to grow the food that gets lost or wasted
What should be done
There have been promising developments in the global war against hunger in recent decades. According to FAO, in the period of 1990 to 2016 the world hunger has decreased from 18 to 10 percent. Although, most of this reduction has happened in transport and distribution, farming and processing of the food.
The part of the global food wastage that has not seen that much change is the one that is related to us, consumers. With changes in our shopping behaviors, we will be able to work on this part that is responsible for about half of the food wasted in the world.