Food Surplus - an Unknown Reality
In the very second that you are reading this, fifty-one tonnes of food is going to waste.
Food waste is not a strange concept to most of us. From buffets in Thailand to papaya fields in Brazil, modern day humans are expanding their diet and embracing food cultures like never before. All-you-can-eat chicken wings? Count me in.
At the same time... we are generating food waste on an unfathomable scale (understandably so).
So what? Isn’t having some extra food a good thing? We seem to have more important issues to tackle, like climate change!
What if we told you that food waste can also play into global warming, and by diving into how we can solve food waste, we can subsequently slow down global warming?
That's crazy talk.
The Role of Food In Climate Change
The first solution to climate change is not cutting out cars or factories, it is the reduction of food waste itself.
During the decomposition of food materials in landfills, methane, which is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is often produced as a result of the oxygen-deficient surrounding. Landfills are a breeding ground for bacteria, yeast, fungus, microwaves, televisions, socks, apples, potatoes and anything else your rubbish bin had the pleasure of hosting - so when it all comes together at the end of the week, it can't be pretty. When this foodstuff sits alongside plastic bags, bottles, boxes, screw drivers, dead rats and batteries, it doesn't exactly get a chance to decompose the way we expect it to.
Not only this, 70% of global water consumption goes into food production processes. So, it is quite unreasonable for all these resources to be used only to have them go straight to the landfills to pollute our atmosphere further.
Learn more about the relationship between Food Waste and Global Challenges in our Hive Explorer Sustainability Curriculum. We think its important for teachers and students to understand and explain these concepts in the form of exercises, activities, experiments and debates. Download a free sample here and contact us here for customizable resources.
How Do We Waste So Much Food?
There are actually two main categories of food waste: food loss at early stages, which is more prominent in low-income countries, and food waste near the consumer end, which is very common in high-income countries.
It all boils down to the three As: Abundance, Affluence and Association.
You walk into the supermarket and see a full-shelf of potatoes. You pick one up and check its quality. ‘This one’s colour is a bit off…That one has a weird shape’, you put it back down and move on - seems like a pretty sensible thing to do, you don't want to be falling sick.
Well, all the ‘ugly’ food that no one picked up is going to end up in the landfill, even if it wasn't spoilt. What a lot of people don’t realize is how an abundance of food choices, combined with the super high food beauty standard that a lot of people have, plays into the enormous amount of food waste we see in a lot of cities.
Every year, 3 billion pounds of potatoes are thrown away - nearly 40% of these never even made it to the shelf simply because they don’t adhere to the shape, size or colour that we expect them to have. This is merely one example of how an abundance of choices, low food prices, and a disassociation on the buyer’s side from all the resources and labour that went into the produce facilitated food wasting all around the globe.
What Can I Do?
In the European Union, 53% of all food waste is wasted at home. So what you do matters, and it matters a lot.
Let's cut straight to what you can do, at a household level to make a small difference. You can plan ahead before grocery shopping, try to show love to ugly products, understand labels and expiration dates, store food properly, reuse and repurpose food waste, and lastly, use the right technology amongst many other initiatives. We've discussed and explained each of these tips in a set of blogs, please feel free to pause and check them out before you proceed:
A Unique Technological Alternative
Opportunities sometimes arise from very unlikely circumstances. Start-ups from different parts of the world have already picked up on some of the ways they can solve the food waste crisis.
Philippe Schuler, the global impact manager at Too Good To Go, shared some information about the world’s largest B2C marketplace for surplus food. It is an app which focuses on selling magic bags that are packed with unsold food surplus from nearby restaurants and deliver them to your doorstep. This way, food waste can be prevented, while at the same time, restaurants get to make extra revenue. It’s a win-win situation for all stakeholders.
Who would have thought that something as simple as downloading an app could be a step towards solving global warming? Too Good To Go and many other apps (like Phenix in Hong Kong) that aim to reduce food waste through providing services are definitely a step in the right direction.
However, it is not to say that these solutions do not come with their own drawbacks and controversies. Recently, there have been debates on whether processes like this are creating a new revenue stream for food businesses and encouraging overproduction, which defeats the very purpose that they set out to achieve: reducing food waste.
One thing to keep in mind though is that food waste is a complex issue that needs to be handled carefully. There is no simple solution to end all food waste, what matters is that everyone is actively involved in initiatives that they not only understand, but also have thoroughly researched to ensure that there is complete transparency across the board. If you're not sure about something, do your part to learn more, and start the right conversations.
Technology has evolved to a point where we are able to meditate, exercise, socialize and purchase food all with a single device, which is incredible, and taking advantage of this to support good causes is even more so. Even though there are questions raised on the quality and safety of this leftover food, keep in mind that this is still a relatively new solution with great potential that should not be brushed aside. After all, not everyone has the space and time to do composting and recycling, but with technological advancements, going green can just be an app away.
Through showing our support and providing feedback to these companies with the same beliefs as us, we might be able to create a planet with little to no food waste. Everyone can make a difference by starting small, but more importantly, by starting now. It’s just a button away!