Opinion

Feeding people, not landfills

Master of Sustainability Candidate Maria Nasta Bittar examines the local and global impacts of food waste, and how these issues will be intensified by climate change.

Image by Patricia Chumillas, via Shutterstock. Stock photo ID: 127061021.

Have you ever thought about the relation between food waste and climate change? Or about why it is important to alleviate food waste in our daily lives?

It is time for widespread acknowledgment of the effects of food waste, including the food insecurity faced by people locally and globally, and how these issues will be exacerbated by climate change.

Researchers have found that currently, the world produces enough food to feed the global population (Schultz and Mandyck, 2015). Yet, it is estimated that 800 million people (a population equivalent to the United States and Europe combined) around the world, are chronically hungry and 2 billion people suffer from malnutrition (Schultz and Mandyck, 2015).

And what about climate change? Well, all that food that is lost and wasted has generated greenhouse gas emissions along its production line through energy, water, land resources used once wasted, that food keeps damaging the environment (Schultz and Mandyck, 2015). In fact, all the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) caused by the food that we lose and waste worldwide represents 3.3 billion metric tonnes which would be equivalent to more than twice the emissions of all trucks and cars in the US (Schultz and Mandyck, 2015). And not to mention the methane emitted by food in landfills, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (Foodwise, 2018). If ‘food waste’ were a country, it would come third in emissions, after the US and China (FAO, 2011). That’s how big the impact is.

It is expected that by 2050, the population will reach 9.6 billion (Schultz and Mandyck, 2015). Despite the amount of food currently produced globally, it is thought that the world will have to produce 70% more food, to feed the growing population (Mandyck, 2015). However, the amount of resources that the world currently consumes is equivalent to 1.6 planets (Knudson, 2017). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, 2011) available agricultural land is limited, and 1.4 billion hectares of land is used annually to produce the food that is lost or wasted. This is equivalent to the areas of Canada and India put together (Bager, et al., 2017). Furthermore, climate variability (extreme weather conditions: hotter, wetter, higher seas) impacts agricultural production reducing food yields and food quality, and this also increases the cost of food (Campbell, 2015).

As stated in the book Food Foolish (2015), the way the world wastes food is one of the most ‘foolish practices’. Reducing food waste seems key to an optimal food system that can reduce the tension between having to produce more food for the potential rising population and having to reduce the impact of that raising consumption.

In Australia, 3.6 million people (15% of the population) have experienced food insecurity in the last 12 months according to the Food Bank’s 2017 hunger report and almost half of them are employed (Food Bank, 2017). Yet, the average Australian wastes one of every three bags of groceries a year (Foodbank, 2017). The (Australian) National Food Waste strategy acknowledges the importance of the issue nationwide and has set the goal of halving Australia’s food waste by 2030 (The Australian Government, 2017), aligned with the food waste reduction target established by the UN (The United Nations, 2016). The National strategy also recognizes that all stakeholders in society, including government, industry, businesses, academia and the not-for-profit sector must act to achieve this, and the areas that have been identified as key to act upon are: policy support, business improvements, market development and behavioural change (The Australian Government, 2017).

Let’s look at this last point about us; the consumers, and our necessary behavioural change. If we are to address food waste, we need to change our food culture and start taking food waste prevention seriously.  So, what can we do?

  1. The Civil Liability Amendment (Food Donations) Act 2005, known as the Good Samaritan Act, protects food donors and allows companies to donate food as long as it is in a safe state. Organizations like Oz harvest, which opened the first food-rescue-market in Australia, benefit from this law and rescue food from donors and to make food available for the public. This prevents food from going to landfill and most importantly, they feed people which is why the food was produced in the first place. If you want to support one of these organizations you can either: donate, volunteer, shop with them, get involved, and contribute to the change actively!
  2. Don’t be ashamed of the doggy bag! The NSW government through The Food Act 2003 (NSW) does not prevent restaurants from providing doggy bags. So, next time you eat out, ask for your leftovers to takeaway or even take your own container. Be a conscious consumer, and maybe other people might follow you.
  3. The EPA’s Love Food Hate Waste program provides some tips for everyone to follow at an individual level and contribute to mitigating the issue of food waste. Some of their tips are: to plan your grocery shopping ahead; buy only what you need for 1-2 days so you avoid accumulating food waste; and choose the ‘ugly’ fruit as they’re still edible.
  4. If you are a restaurant or a venue, look at this video from the case of this place in Melbourne where they managed to prevent 600kg of food waste daily from going to landfill by a series of actions including a change in culture and technology implementation. The impact was significant, especially considering that in Australia, 60% of landfill is made up of organic waste.  Plus, it is estimated that for every dollar that a business invests in food waste reduction, they get around ten to fourteen in return.
  5. At a government level, it is very important that laws are aligned with contributing to the issue of food waste through food labelling laws and taxes that promote a more balanced food system as well.

Let’s be more conscious about the issue and acknowledge our impact as individuals. Together we can help feed more people and stop feeding landfills!

References

Bager, Simon., Campbell, Bruce., Holt, Sonja., and Vermeulen, Lucy. (2017). ‘Food Security: Food Waste.’ Report by Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. Wageningen: The Netherlands. Access here.
Campbell, Sharon. (2015).Why the homeless are most vulnerable. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 26(2), 161-162.
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. (2011). ‘Global food losses and food waste: Extent, Causes and Preventions.’  Study conducted for the International Congress. Dusseldorf, Germany. Access here.
Foodbank. (2017). Foodbanks 2017 Hunger report. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Access here.
Jones, Holley., and McGrath, Kerry. (2016). A slippery slope: The social gradient of food insecurity and healthy eating in AustraliaParity, 29(2), 7-9.
Knudson, Dean. (2017). Closing Remarks in Food Waste Submit presentations summary. 20 November 2017, Melbourne Australia. Access here.
Mandyck, John. (2015). ‘For climate’s sake, let’s cut food waste!’ The Ecologist. 17th September 2015. Access here.
Schultz, Eric B., and Mandyck, John M. (2015). Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate [EBook]. Carrier Corporation.
The Australian Government (2017). National Food Waste Strategy: Halving Australia’s Food Waste by 2030. The Department of the Environment and Energy (November, 2017). Access here.
The United Nations. (2016). The UN Sustainable Development Goals set food waste reduction target. Access here.


Maria Nasta Bittar is Paraguayan. She is a Master of Sustainability Candidate at The University of Sydney. She holds a Bachelor of Communications from Bond University and has work experience in Advertising, Corporate Social Responsibility and as a Fashion Entrepreneur. She is interested in Waste Management. Yoga lover.