Here’s How To Solve The Food Waste Problem


Yes. We CAN Solve the Food Waste Problem. If We Try.



Editor’s Note:-This is an article originally published in Grist on August 21, 2019. I have made minor edits.


Earlier this month, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire report highlighting the enormous environmental impact of agriculture. But the report also pointed to a clear solution:- we can stop wasting food.

Globally, we humans squander up to a third of the food we produce. We leave it to rot in fields and refrigerators, cull it because it’s too ugly to sell, stack it in stores where some gets squashed. All of this uneaten food required energy to produce. Food waste has a massive carbon footprint; and that’s a harsh reality in a world where 821 million people don’t have enough to eat.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Better Packaging, Transport, and Storage Help reduce Food Waste

Food must move quickly on its journey from farm to table before it spoils. Wealthy countries rely on refrigeration and climate-controlled trucks and distribution centers. That’s not an option in much of the developing world — so food may rot before it reaches a market.

Refrigeration is expensive, and isn’t eco-friendly, so new innovations are key, like SolarChill Project’s solar powered fridges, which are currently used to store vaccines in medical centers in Kenya and Colombia.

Other inventions do away with conventional refrigeration entirely. Evaporative coolers can be as simple as two nested clay pots with some wet sand in between. As the water evaporates, it pulls heat out of the interior of the container, chilling the contents by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That can extend the shelf life of produce by several days, giving farmers more time to get their food to market.

Purdue Improved Crop Storage bags are opened during a ceremony in Pala, Chad. The hermetic grain storage bags have allowed farmers in Africa to safely store their grains so they can sell their crop well beyond harvest. Purdue Agricultural Communication photo / Beksoubo Damienne

While grains last a lot longer, they’re vulnerable to pests. But PICS (Purdue Improved Crops Storage) bags are triple-sealed and hermetic, meaning any bugs that sneak in with the maize or millet will run out of oxygen long before they can cause an infestation. A farmer using a PICS bag to store crops can reap an additional $27 in sales.

None of these technologies is a panacea—each one tackles a small piece of the problem. But enough of them added together might help to solve the food waste problem. .

What We Eat Contributes to Food Waste – But It Can Change!

In wealthier countries, the biggest food-waste culprit is easier to pinpoint: It’s us.

In the U.S., individuals throw away some 27 million tons of food a year, amounting to 43 percent of all food waste nationwide. In the UK, household waste accounts for 70 percent of losses beyond the farm.

Why do we waste so much food? We buy too much. We don’t use it in time. We forget to eat the leftovers. To Liz Goodwin, director of Food Loss and Waste at the World Resources Institute, it all boils down to the fact that food is now a throwaway item. “We know we can get more, so it doesn’t really matter,” she said.

Raising awareness that food waste does matter can work. The UK’s “Love Food Hate Waste” initiative, which Goodwin described as “the single best-evaluated campaign there is,” led to a 20 percent reduction in household food waste between 2007 and 2012, she said.

Somewhat surprisingly, meal kits can also help reduce waste. A recent study by Miller’s team in Michigan showed that meals prepared from Blue Apron recipes resulted in one-third less carbon emissions on average than the same meals prepared from grocery store ingredients. The difference was largely due to the fact that the kit portioned ingredients very carefully, resulting in less wasted food — which more than compensated for the climate impact of all the extra packaging.

“We have this great understanding of plastic and packaging waste as major environmental impacts, but for whatever reason we don’t have that same idea associated with food,” Miller said.

Items from a “family-plan” Blue Apron box Scott Eisen / Getty Images

Standardizing date labels could also make a difference. They became common in the 1970s as a marker of food quality, but many of us today wrongly assume that once the “sell by” date has passed, the food’s spoiled. In fact, these dates are often a manufacturer’s arbitrary estimate of when the food will taste most fresh — and different states have different standards. The result is we throw out loads of food that’s still fine to eat, according to Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Law School Food and Policy Clinic.

On August 1, congressional legislators introduced a bipartisan, food industry-backed bill to create two standard labels. Under the proposed scheme, companies would have the option of labeling food with a “best if used by” date to indicate peak freshness, and a “use by” date if the food must be thrown out at a certain point for safety reasons, explained JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

If the bill becomes law, rollout of the nationwide standards would be accompanied by a mass educational campaign so that Americans can stop needlessly tossing so much food in the trash. “People are confused about what these terms mean,” Berkenkamp said. “Streamlining them has the potential to help consumers make much better choices.”

Solve the Food Waste Problem By Putting Waste to Work

There’s a lot we can do to reduce food waste, even if it’s unlikely we’ll ever eliminate it entirely. But we can absolutely stop sending food waste to landfills, where it emits the potent greenhouse gas methane as it decomposes.

Composting is one alternative. Americans sent 2.1 million tons of food waste to composters in 2015. But with another 30 million tons entering landfills that same year, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Food waste is also used to make fuel via the microbially-driven process of anaerobic digestion. The UK company Biogen, for instance, has 13 anaerobic digestion plants that produce enough electricity to power a small town.

But the truth is when it comes to food waste, technology only goes so far. Farmers may simply choose not to harvest if they won’t get a good price. To avoid this, we need good policies as well as technology.

Food Is Valuable!

Ultimately, we need to treat food like the valuable good that it is. Because if one thing’s clear from the new U.N. report, it’s that when we waste food, the planet picks up the tab.


This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Here’s how we solve the planet’s food waste problem on Aug 21, 2019.

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