Why we should care about food waste
Global efforts to combat hunger do not necessarily aim to increase global food production, but to reduce food waste in both developing and developed countries. Therefore, the loss of food, that is, the decrease of the edible food mass along the supply chain (from production, post-harvest, processing and distribution to population consumption) is now more than ever in the spotlight, at the level of politics, industry.
Given its devastating economic, environmental and social impact, food loss is currently considered to be one of the major barriers to food security and climate change mitigation. Today, between 1,3 and 2 billion tonnes of food produced worldwide are lost, which corresponds to an annual global cost of about $ 1 trillion, of which about $ 310 billion in developing countries and $ 680 billion in industrialized countries. As the total loss of food in the industrialized world is almost equal to the total food turnover available in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is an urgent call to address this problem and, therefore, to measure what is lost in developed countries. In North America and Europe, food waste seems to be the most important, estimated per capita at around 95–115 kg/year, more than ten times higher than in sub-Saharan and southern Africa. In the EU alone, almost 40% of losses occur during food processing, partly due to inefficiencies in the processing system and production management. Statistics show that Romanians throw away, on average, 130 kg of food per year. In total, the food wasted in 12 months would be enough to feed the entire city of Cluj-Napoca for 20 years, say representatives of non-governmental organizations.
There are numerous studies on food waste and waste from the perspective of demand, that is, focusing on consumer behaviour towards food choice and household waste generation.
The quantification of household food waste is an essential part of establishing waste reduction policies and objectives, but it is very difficult to estimate. Current methods include either direct measurements (surveys), or self-report measurements (journals, interviews and questionnaires). The main limitation of the first method is that it cannot always track the source of waste, i.e. an individual household, while the second method has no objectivity. A new method that offers a solution to these challenges would be the measurement of daily food waste produced at the household level. This method is based on four essential principles:
- Waste collection as it enters the stream.
- Collecting waste samples at the consumer’s door.
- Using the individual household as a sampling unit.
- Collecting and sorting waste daily.
The feasibility of the last method has been tested in a study of 192 households, measuring the actual quantities of food waste from households, as well as their composition. Domestic food waste accounted for 45% of total waste (573 g/day per capita), of which 54% were identified as avoided. About two-thirds of the avoidable waste consists of vegetables and fruits.
Seeing how important the matter at hand is, we challenge you to a useful exercise: measure how much food waste you generate in your family in one week, then compare your data with the one presented in this article. In this way, we hope that you’ll better understand the problem of food waste and become more resourceful with reducing food waste in the future.