A worrying report published by the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers last week revealed that almost half of all the food produced in the world goes to waste every year. The report which is named “Global food; Waste Not, Want Not” has made the discovery that between 30% and 50% of food produced (nearly 2 billion tonnes of food) worldwide is thrown away. So why is this and what can we do to combat it?
Possible reasons for this alarming amount of waste have been cited as too great a dependence on strict sell-by dates, the buy-one-get-one free culture as well as Western consumer demand for food that looks aesthetically perfect. On the supply side, poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities have also been mooted as reasons.
These waste figures are made all the more disconcerting as the United Nations has recently predicted that there could be an extra 3 billion people to feed by the end of the century as human numbers peak at 9.5 billion. Many people already struggle to feed themselves and their family and this population increase is likely to compound the problem even further. With so much pressure to feed everyone, these new figures make it clear that we need to find ways to tackle our wastefulness.
In the UK, one of the main reasons for so much food waste is down to people’s predilection for ‘perfect looking’ food. Fruit and vegetables that are not up to supermarket standards appearance-wise never make it to the shelves and are thrown away. This has led to 30% of vegetable crops not being harvested, while nearly half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by customers.
Water waste is also an issue that’s highlighted in the report. Around 550bn cubic metres of water is wasted globally through the process of growing crops that subsequently never reach the consumer. By 2050, it’s been predicted that the demand for water in food production could reach 10 – 13 trillion cubic metres a year. This is about 3 times more than the total use of fresh water and could lead to hugely problematic water shortages around the world. It’s therefore in our interests to cut down on food waste in order to also prevent the huge amount of water that’s being lost.
So what can we do? As consumers, there is a limited amount we can do to change the methods of food production (that is down to better controls on farming practices) but we can change our attitude towards the way that we select the food we buy. Rather than aiming for perfect looking food, perhaps we should accept that the physical characteristics of fruit and vegetables don’t alter the way they taste! This would, in turn, mean that supermarkets don’t reject entire crops of edible food and vegetables. Supermarket deals are also somewhat to blame therefore we should shop with reasonable expectations of what we can eat rather than simply buying double the amount because it is part of a deal. We should also learn to read ‘best before’ dates as a guide. If we each aim take these things into consideration when doing our weekly shop then we’ll each be doing our bit to make the world a less wasteful place.
Food Waste Image by jbloom - http://www.flickr.com/photos/32123311@N00/502155430/