Many of us try to live sustainable lifestyles by buying organic, using our bikes instead of cars or cooking with solar – but how often do we think about how much food we consume and waste, where it comes from, whether it’s been sustainably and ethically sourced, how far it may have travelled to get to us and what impact its production had on the environment, people and economies.
It is estimated that about one third of global food production is lost or wasted each year (averaging 1.3 billion tonnes) and that consumers in industrialised countries waste as much food as sub-Saharan African countries produce each year. Food waste is mainly a problem in industrialised countries. Food losses on the other hand, are more common in developing countries – often resulting from financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, inadequate storage and cooling facilities and infrastructure, and un-developed packaging and marketing systems.
The production of food along the supply chain (harvesting, manufacturing, packaging, shipping and merchandising) uses about one quarter of all habitable land and often requires large inputs of fresh water, energy, labor and fertilizers. Every time food is lost or wasted along the production and consumption system, a host of other valuable resources are therefore also wasted. Food waste and losses can also have serious environmental, social and economic impacts if not managed in a resource-efficient and responsible way – from polluting rivers, adding pressure on landfills, increasing methane emissions, loss of biodiversity as well as contributing towards climate change.
Given the rapidly growing global population and increasing food insecurity, hunger and loss of ecosystems and their services – we stand to lose a chance at a sustainable and food-secure future if we continue to be wasteful and inefficient in our dealings with food.
Think. Eat. Save: how you can help put an end to food waste
Luckily, consumer trends and behaviour are powerful forces in shifting production and consumption practices if they are widely supported. There are also a growing number of responsible and ethical food producers along the supply chain. If each of us commits to Think.Eat.Save, change is possible.
It is also important that all sectors involved in food supply chains improve management, technology, marketing, resource-efficiency and behaviour to help enhance food security, eradicate hunger, boost local economies, sustainable agriculture and sustainable supply chains.
Here are some practical ideas of what consumers can do to Think.Eat.Save and reduce food waste:
Think next time you shop about how much food you actually need and don’t buy more than that; also think about where your food comes from and how it was produced – and if you don’t know, ask your retailer or restaurateur. Remember that every time you waste food, you are also wasting a host of valuable resources that went into producing and transporting that food.
Eat and support foods that are grown organically and locally – and if you can, grow your own. Eat to live, don’t live to eat – overconsumption is also wasteful. Remain aware that while many people suffer from obesity, millions also suffer and die from hunger and starvation.
Save food rather than throwing it away to be wasted. Saving food can be as simple as storing it correctly so it can be eaten at a later stage, giving it to someone who is hungry, composting rotten foods or donating to local food banks, soup kitchens or farms that require foods for compost.
You can make a difference! Register your Think.Eat.Save activity for World Environment Day 2013 on 5 June and inspire others to reduce food waste and losses.