Simple actions by consumers and food retailers can dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted each year and help shape a sustainable future, according to a new global campaign to cut food waste launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners.
The Think.Eat.Save campaign of the Save Food Initiative, is a partnership between UNEP, FAO and Messe Düsseldorf, and in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Zero Hunger Challenge, which seeks to add its authority and voice to these efforts in order to galvanize widespread global, regional and national actions, catalyze more sectors of society to be aware and to act, including through exchange of inspiring ideas and projects between those players already involved and new ones that are likely to come on board.
The campaign harnesses the expertise of organizations such as WRAP UK, Feeding the 5,000 and other partners, including national governments, who have considerable experience targeting and changing wasteful practices.
Think.Eat.Save. aims to accelerate action and provide a global vision and information-sharing portal for the many and diverse initiatives currently underway around the world.
Worldwide, about one-third of all food produced, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages – harvesting, processing and distribution – while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain.
In industrialized regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, comes as the result of producers, retailers and consumers discarding food that is still fit for consumption. This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world.
“In a world of seven billion people, set to grow to nine billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense – economically, environmentally and ethically,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“Aside from the cost implications, all the land, water, fertilizers and labour needed to grow that food is wasted – not to mention the generation of greenhouse gas emissions produced by food decomposing on landfill and the transport of food that is ultimately thrown away,” he added. “To bring about the vision of a truly sustainable world, we need a transformation in the way we produce and consume our natural resources.”
The global food system has profound implications for the environment, and producing more food than is consumed only exacerbates the pressures, some of which follow:
- More than two billion hectares of arable lands was degraded due to poor agricultural practices over the second half of the 20th century;
- Fresh water supplies are over-subscribed globally – at least 70 per cent of fresh water is consumed by agriculture;
- The food system accounts for nearly 21per cent per cent of global fossil fuel use;
- Agriculture contributes more than 30 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions;
- Agricultural expansion is responsible for 80 per cent of deforestation;
- Global fish stocks have declined by 75 per cent, due to uncontrolled overfishing and habitat degradation.
Part of the trigger for the campaign was the outcome of the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012, in which Heads of State and governments gave the go-ahead for a 10 Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production. One of the themes of the framework of programmes is agri-food.
“There can be no other area that is perhaps so emblematic of the opportunities for a far more resource-efficient and sustainable world – and there is no other issue that can unite North and South and consumers and producers everywhere in common cause,” said Mr. Steiner.
Much of the losses in developing countries come at early stages of the food supply chain due to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques; storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions; infrastructure; packaging and marketing systems.
However, in the developed world the end of the chain is far more significant. At the retail level in the developed world, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance, unnecessarily stringent sell-by and use-by dates, and consumers being quick to throw away edible food due to over-buying and preparing meals that are too large.
Per capita waste by consumers is between 95 and115 kg a year in Europe and North America/Oceania, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia each throw away only 6 to 11 kg a year.
According to WRAP, the average UK family could save £680 per year (US$1,090) and the UK hospitality sector could save £724 million(US$1.2 billion) per year by tackling food waste.
- Shop Smart: Plan meals, use shopping lists, buy from bulk bins, avoid impulse buys and don’t succumb to marketing tricks that lead you to buy more food than you need.
- Buy Funny Fruit: Many fruits and vegetables are thrown out because their size, shape, or colour are deemed not “right”. Buying these perfectly good fruit, at the farmer’s market or elsewhere, utilizes food that might otherwise go to waste.
- Understand Expiry Dates: Unlike “Sell-by” and “use-by” dates, “Best-before” dates are generally manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. Most foods can be safely consumed well after these dates.
- Zero Down Your Fridge: Websites such as WRAP’s www.lovefoodhatewaste.com can help consumers get creative with recipes to use up anything that might go bad soon.
- Other actions include: freezing food; requesting smaller portions at restaurants; eating leftovers – whether home-cooked, from restaurants or takeaway; composting food; and donating spare food to local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters.
Retailers and the Hospitality Industry
- Supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, companies, cities and countries can use the website to pledge to measure the food they waste and put in place targets to reduce it.
- Retailers can carry out waste audits and product loss analysis, discount offers for near-expiration items, redesign product displays with less excess, standardize labelling and increased food donations, among other actions.
- Restaurants, pubs and hotels can limit menu choices and introduce flexible portioning, carry out waste audits and create staff engagement programmes, among many other measures.
For more information visit the campaign’s official website.