As a whole, the global population produces more than enough food to ensure that no one goes hungry. Unfortunately, much of that food never reaches those who truly need it, and the results of constant over-production have devastating effects on the environment; effects that only increase the difficulty of cultivating crops in the future.
The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Word Wildlife Foundation (WWF) Germany, and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) partnered to create a short film in an effort to instigate conversations that could change the way the world handles food. Titled Waste, it provides a comprehensive view of how wasted food is detrimental to the environment.
Waste discusses the environmental cost of food loss and waste; food loss refers to food that is spoiled during transit or storage, while food waste refers to food that is thrown away before it can be consumed. The FAO estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food was lost or wasted in 2009. Today, one out of every four calories produced by the world’s farms is lost or wasted. It is estimated that the world will require nearly 60% more calories in 2050 than it did in 2006 as a result of population growth. Continued food waste will severely hinder efforts to end world hunger.
The benefits of reducing the excess production and waste of food would be incredible; we could feed every hungry person in the world, reduce food costs, and conserve water, land and energy.
- Effects on Food: If all of the food wasted annually was laid side by side, it would take up an area one and half times the size of the United States. Nearly 56% of global food loss and waste occurs in the developed world as a result of absurd cosmetic standards for produce, confusing labeling, insufficient preparation and storage information, and exaggerated portions. The remaining 44% is lost in the developing world because of harvest and storage issues. Essentially, only a fraction of the world’s food fulfills its purpose of nutritional consumption.
- Effects on Water: Water necessary to produce the food that is lost and wasted annually could fill 70 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Each apple that is thrown away requires enough drinking water to flush a toilet seven times. The meat for a single hamburger demands enough water to fill 16 bathtubs.
- Effects on Land: If the farmland exploited for wasted food was concentrated into one region, it would account for a land mass the size of Mexico. Several billion tons of fertile soil is lost each year to produce food that is wasted or lost in outrageous proportions.
- Effects on Energy: Food waste is responsible for the release of two times the climate-relevant gasses of the world’s air traffic, causing it to rank as a top emitter of greenhouse gasses. According to a yet unpublished estimate by the FAO, if food loss and waste were a country, it would qualify as the third highest emitter of such gasses, after the United States and China.
- Effects on Money: The FAO calculates global food waste at 750 billion US dollars; 6 times the amount spent on developmental aid. In the US, the average family of four spends $1,600 on wasted food annually. Anything that contributes to a shortage of resources ultimately makes food more expensive, so reducing water, land and energy consumption will unequivocally save consumers money.
Waste, and also a study from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the UNEP offer relatively simple and inexpensive solutions to the environmental, financial and humanitarian concerns of food loss and waste. For food loss in the developing world, potential solutions include building up food distribution and storage capabilities and introducing the use of sturdy plastic crates rather than sacks to transport produce. In the industrialized world, potential solutions include eliminating irrelevant produce cosmetic standards, ceasing the use of confusing dating codes which can cause consumers to throw away food that is still safe to eat, educating people in proper food storage practices, downsizing portions in some cafeterias by introducing a “pay by weight” system, and limiting excess purchases.
Attacking the global food loss and food waste crisis needs to be a top priority in the fight to preserve the environment, end world hunger and eradicate global poverty. These issues and their root causes are so closely related, addressing them separately will never solve the entire problem.
– Dana Johnson