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Is Food Waste Really A Problem?

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

10 Million tonnes (10,000,000,000kg) of food is wasted each year in the UK, and across the world one third of all food that is produced is wasted. In the UK of the 10 million tonnes 1.3 million tonnes come from manufacture, 1 million tonnes from hospitality like restaurants and hotels, 260 thousand tonnes from retail, shops and supermarkets and the the rest comes from homes. Just the food wasted would be enough to feed the whole world while 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. It's not right and it's not fair, but it's not just the cost to people that is a problem. Food waste causes pollution.

Food waste is a problem that doesn't just cost money

What Is Food Waste?

Food waste is food that is thrown out when it could have been eaten. There are many causes of food waste and these can happen during food production, the processing of food and when people buy it but don't eat it.

What Causes Food Waste?

The problem of wastage starts at planting. As the plants grow they can become sick with plant diseases and the weather can destroy plants, whether it's from flooding, drought or even hail stones knocking flowers off. This stops the plant from producing fruits and vegetables that could be harvested and the plant will be wasted. Farmers using machines when harvesting can cause waste as farmers can't pick out the crops that aren't ready and leave them to grow. This means that the crop that wasn't ready gets collected and then thrown away. There are also rules that farmers have to follow such as regulations and standards for quality and appearance that cause food waste; crops that aren't big enough, are too big or just don't look nice will be discarded.

In manufacturing food is wasted when it is being used to produce something else, that could be wheat being wasted when being ground for flour, in factories machines can break causing wastage, accidents can happen with food being so damaged that it cannot be sold. Lots of different things can go wrong during food production.

Fresh food that isn't sold by the end of the day will be trown away and yet lots of people don't have enough to eat

In hospitality and retail food is often thrown out when there is simply too much. At the end of a buffet there are always left overs. When a sandwich shop closes for the day fresh food that hasn't been sold will have to be taken off of the shelves. Supermarkets have to throw out food that is passed it's use by or best before date, a lot of food is thrown out because of this. Food that has passed the best before or use by date can still be edible at the time of disposal, but stores will throw food out once it is out of date just in case someone eats it later and becomes ill.

Retailers usually have strict standards for the appearance of produce, and if fruits or vegetables aren't the perfect shape or are superficially bruised, they are often not put on the shelf. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) food waste is responsible for 8 percent of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions. They also found that nearly 30 percent of all available agricultural land in the world - 1.4 billion hectares - is used to produce food that never gets eaten. The global water footprint of food waste is 250 km3, that is the amount of water that flows annually through the Volga or 3 times the amount of water in Lake Geneva. Then there's the pollution; discarded food often ends up in landfill where it is buried. It rots down producing toxins and gases such as methane, this waste also get really hot and can cause fires as the heat builds up. The toxins from the rotting food can leach into waterways when it rains and pollute streams, rivers and seas and lead to the death of the plants and animals living in them. The rotten food will also make the water look grimy and smell disgusting.

Food that gets thrown away doesn't just waste water when it grows, it pollutes water as it rots

Reducing Waste

One way of dealing with food waste is to reduce its creation. Consumers can reduce the amount of food that spoils by planning their food shopping, avoiding potentially wasteful spontaneous purchases, and storing foods properly. Widespread educational campaigns have been shown to be an effective way to reduce food waste. A British campaign called “Love Food Hate Waste” has raised awareness about preventative measures to address food waste for shoppers. Through advertisements, information on food storage and preparation and in-store education, the UK managed a 21% drop in avoidable household food waste over the course of 5 years. Food waste can also be composted or fed to animals so that it can be used for something else. Also understanding use by and best before dates will prevent food from being left until it's no good or even being thrown away when it can still be eaten.

There are many ways of tackling food waste and many of them we can do ourselves just from being more aware of our actions. A lot of ways of reducing food waste will also save us money as we buy less and make better use of what we have.

Are there any things that you can think of that would reduce food waste in your home or school?


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