Today, we’ll hear the numbers about the environmental impact of food waste—how it squanders resources and contributes to global warming. We hear that 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year, and we can’t believe it. Thirty percent of our food? Why? Why is all this food being wasted?
AREAS OF FOOD WASTE
Exactly. That’s what we need to be asking: why. To tackle the problem, we first need to understand the causes of waste. In its comprehensive study on the subject, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) broke food loss and waste down into five areas:
- Agricultural production
- Postharvest handling and storage
- Consumption, which includes the waste and loss in our homes.
Looking at each one, we can begin to understand why waste occurs at each stage.
FOOD WASTE IN THE UK
On days like today, we often look straight at the consumer. We are all consumers. We all see food waste at home. We all want to help. Huge waste occurs at this stage—too much. WRAP, a non-profit that tracks waste, found in one study that UK households waste an estimated 7.2 million tons of food every year, around one fifth of all food and drink purchased. But there are still the four other types of waste.
FOOD WASTE IN LOW INCOME COUNTRIES
In low-income countries up to 40% of food is lost in postharvest and processing. This is often because of a lack of infrastructure, like roads or warehouses. But infrastructure can also be lacking from a policy framework perspective: This early in the value chain, a lot of waste occurs because of preventable contamination, but the food safety products that are required need regulations and accreditation. This is a big gap in many countries, and at a recent FAO Save Food workshop we discussed how we all face this issue, and how important it is to work together with the FAO to ensure that the right compliance structures are in place in the country.
FOOD WASTE IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
In many developed countries, large amounts of produce are rejected by consumers and supermarkets for cosmetic reasons. In Italy, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition reported that fruits and vegetables thrown away at Italian points of sale involved the consumption of 36.5 billion two-litre bottles’ worth of water. Again, we need to ask ourselves why.
UNDERSTANDING FOOD WASTE
Understanding why food is wasted is not just an intellectual exercise. Once we understand the causes, we can cut the waste. We work with customers every day—farmers, producers, processors throughout the food chain—and we know that even more innovation and collaboration has to happen to make the waste reductions we need possible.
FOOD WASTE DURING TRANSPORT
For example, in the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council is known for its extreme temperatures, and in 2010, almost 70% of the food requirements in the GCC were imported. As food is shipped from airport to airport, with all the warehouses, travel time, and customs stops in between, it is exposed for hours to the sun on the hot tarmac. Air freight companies know that these breaks in the cold chain are a recipe for irreversible damage to fresh produce. By collaborating with companies like Emirates SkyCargo, we can apply our science and know-how to help improve their Cool Chain Advanced solution—controlling temperatures better and protecting perishable shipments.
This is better for the environment, obviously. Just as importantly, it is better for the billion people who go to bed hungry every night while all this waste is happening. We need to get them better, safer, and more nutritious food. We have years of experience in the food industry, and we believe that applying science can help solve these problems. These are things that we know how to do. But we also recognize that we can never end world hunger sustainably without addressing the food waste issue. To do that, we need to keep asking why.
Author: Gert Keiner, DuPont Food Industry Segment Leader EMEA