The Big Food Waste Issue – Don’t Ignore the Issue
In recent years, partly thanks to celebrity chefs and partly to our more restricted bank balances, more people than ever before in the UK, where I’m from, have been talking about food waste. With all the debate about how to feed a growing global population not enough attention is paid to using what we already produce more efficiently and wisely.
Every year in the UK 18 million tons of food ends up in landfill, literally cast aside into the rubbish heap to rot. Approximately a third of this is from producers, a third from retailers and a third from everyday households, you and me. At the same time as this is going on we have a growing number of people reliant on food banks, with some giving more food than ever before, and thousands living in food poverty. Clearly something isn’t right.
The stats are similar in the US. Estimates of food waste range from 30% to as high as 50%, costing the country tens of billions every year (indeed 60 million tons of wasted food is estimated to be worth $160 billion).
We live in a society that would rather cast aside what it doesn’t feel it needs rather than respect where it came from and the fact that many do not have what we have. As a result most of us don’t care whether we throw food away. This needs to end if we are to have a hope of feeding a growing population. The more land we use the greater the impact we will have on the environment and so we need to be as efficient as we can in our food production and consumption, and this means limiting food waste as part of the parcel.
What is more, we would all be much better off, nutritionally and financially if we managed this better. An American family of four ends up discarding around $1600 worth of food a year. That is money that is literally being thrown in the bin. In the UK families of a similar size could save £60 every month just by taking more care over their food and not buying more than they actually need.
What is causing the problem?
- We buy more than we need.
- Food is far too cheap! In most western countries food is subsidised so we don’t realise its true value.
- We are obsessed by how food looks. Just because a fruit or vegetable looks a certain way it might be left in the field to rot despite it being completely edible and nutritious. In the UK some supermarkets have got on board with ‘wonky veg’, but there is a long way to go [n.b some companies have got on board so much that they actively use it as a sales pitch – see here and here].
- In our consumer culture we are provided with all things at all times of year – a return to seasonality might mean we’d appreciate food more than we do.
What could we do to stop it?
- Policy changes – government could act to help reduce food waste by forcing retailers to compost unsold food or give it away to good causes or those who need it. Throwing it to landfill must be totally unacceptable. This is already the case in France.
- Think about use by dates – in many cases use by dates on labelling are completely off the mark and a lot of food would realistically keep a lot longer than companies are allowed to say it will.
- Reduce the amount we buy as individuals.
- Be more creative with our leftovers and our cooking.
- Recycle food ourselves – compost any food waste.
- Store food properly so it doesn’t rot.
- Donate food that is still fine to use to food banks rather than throwing it in the bin.
We all need to do more, myself included, and there are many other issues we face, as this brilliant website explains in multiple ways with each and every post that is published. However, the scale of food waste is terrifying and scandalous. It is something that we can all do our bit towards and we should. Small actions matter and if we can’t be responsible ourselves then we can’t expect others to do the same.
Ben Eagle is an environmental and agricultural writer and blogs at thinkingcountry.com . He has published work for The Guardian, Earth Island Journal, Sustainable Food Trust and others. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram @benjy_eagle