The True Cost of Food - How Food Wastage Is Affecting The Environment

May 18, 2021
The True Cost of Food - How Food Wastage Is Affecting The Environment

We have all been guilty of throwing out food that has rotted in our fridge. Some of us do it more than others, but there is no one that can hand on their heart say their household uses every last bit of food that crosses their front door. So what is the impact of us all wasting food? And how much food is actually wasted each year?

Here, we look to answer those questions as well as highlight why food wastage is so bad for the environment. We also highlight ways that we can all, therefore, reduce food wastage as a result.

"Eliminating food waste is seen as a key way to fighting climate change and keeping global warming down."

How Much Food is Wasted Each Year?

Globally, the amount of food wasted each year amounts to so much that if it were a country, it would be the third biggest culprit for greenhouse gas emissions. That’s second to the US and China - the world’s factories and two of the most populated countries. In fact, it is thought that of all the food grown the world over, a massive 33% of it is wasted. That equates to 1.3 billion tonnes of food being wasted globally, each year. Given the amount of poverty and people living malnourished, there is a huge global imbalance when it comes to food production.

Why is Food Wastage So Bad?

The idea that just by harmlessly throwing out a rotting apple or chucking away a stale loaf of bread, we are causing damage can seem a bit strong. However, by throwing away food you are not eating, you will simply buy more food - thus indicating to suppliers that they are answering a demand that is there. Suppliers keep producing the same amount of food, and a surplus, to ensure that they can answer any seasonal demands too.

The issue with overproduction is that it is an inefficient use of energy and actually uses up a lot of water too, not to mention land. Ultimately, this results in too much CO2 being emitted in the production of food which is bad news for climate change. As mentioned above, food production accounts for as much as the third biggest emitting greenhouse emissions. Plus, 25% of the world’s fresh water goes into growing food - yet so much of it ends up in our bins.

If people stopped wasting food and only ate what they needed, it is estimated that 8% of global greenhouse gases caused as a result of that unnecessary waste would be cut. Eliminating food waste is seen as a key way to fighting climate change and keeping global warming down.

Plus don’t forget everything that comes with food wastage too that impacts the environment. The majority of our food is still packaged in plastic that is often hard to recycle. By only buying food that we need, we dramatically reduce our usage of single use plastics.

How to Reduce Food Wastage

Given that food wastage can be so harmful to the environment, what can we all do to help rectify this? The following tips can materially reduce how much food gets thrown away in your household.

Use a Meal Kit Delivery Service

Some may think of meal kit delivery services as an extra expense that they can’t afford. However, meal kit delivery services are not as expensive as many of us think, when we take into account how much food we throw away when we shop for food in the traditional way. That’s because meal kit delivery services only send you the amount of food you need for a recipe. There’s no huge bag of gram flour that ends up lurking in the back of your cupboard - only enough for the food you’re preparing. Buying what we need therefore signals further down the supply chain to amend how much of an item needs to be produced.

Buy Wonky Vegetables and Fruit

So many of the vegetables and fruits grown around the world are discarded because they do not meet the aesthetic standards set by supermarkets. Supermarkets, understandably, only ask for fruit and vegetables that look a certain way as that is what actually sells on their shelves. However, fruit and veg does not actually taste any different if is bigger, smaller or wonkier than is typically seen. Buying such items can therefore help minimise waste by buying food that others have spurned.

Make a Shopping List

It may sound like a basic and obvious idea, but making a shopping list ensures that you do not buy items that your household won’t be able to eat before they go off. Meal planning may be a chore, but your wallet will thank you if you make your shopping list knowing what meals you are going to cook each week. Plus, random food stuffs won’t end up in your trolley either so you only ever buy what you need.

Recommended Read: What is a Well-Balanced Diet and Why Do I Need One?


Do a Fridge and Cupboard Audit

It is also helpful, before making a shopping list, to do an audit of what you have in your fridge or larder before heading to a supermarket. Knowing what you have means you won’t duplicate any items, and also may encourage you to use up what you have instead of buying new food that you don’t necessarily need. While it’s an added step to your grocery shopping each week, it will help keep your food bill down whilst also reducing your food wastage and carbon footprint.

Wasting Food - Key Takeaways

Wasting food is something that we all do. Whether we throw food away in our homes that we have let rot, or we go out to eat in a restaurant where portion sizes are so big we could never finish what’s on our plate. We are all guilty of it. However, just making a few adjustments to our day to day attitude to food can make all the difference. Those small changes add up and if we all did that, we could materially improve our chances of reducing global warming.

Rachel Lee
Having worked at Morgan Stanley and BNYMellon for over 10 years in pensions and investments, Rachel now works as a full-time business and financial writer.

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