Globally, 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted, and roughly 30 percent of the agricultural area is used to produce it. And every night 870 million malnourished people go to bed very hungry. This food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills where it creates 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually. The consumption of water used to produce this wasted food could fill Lake Geneva three times over.
No one has been able to quantify the effects of using this extra land for agriculture, though certainly the expansion into wild areas has created a biodiversity loss. The industrial agriculture practices of spreading harsh fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides, using machinery heavily dependent upon fossil fuels, which add into the tally of unnecessary damage.
The meat and poultry processing businesses also contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions. Mono-cropping also upsets the predator-prey balance of insects, birds and animals in a normally diverse area. And it encourages the unchecked growth of fungi and molds.
Achieving zero hunger through sustainable food systems
The problem of food waste has captured attention globally and many countries are taking measures to minimize the problem and its consequent adverse effects on the environment. Addressing the hunger issue at the same time is recognized as the most ideal solution. Accordingly, there are a number of people and businesses along the way that can change practices to reduce the waste and transfer what can be used to those who need it.
In 2012, the United Nations Secretary General issued a Zero Hunger Challenge, reflecting five general measures to end hunger, eliminate all forms of malnutrition, and build inclusive and sustainable food systems.
The challenge embraces a holistic vision with five stated goals.
- Creating sustainable food systems, from production to consumption. Sustainable means that the actions involved in the processes do not have an adverse environmental impact.
- Rural poverty can be eliminated from moving away from the vision of large-scale agriculture toward small locally-owned farms providing fresh, nutritious food. This will minimize transportation costs and chances of spoilage, reduce the adverse environmental impacts of monoculture and provide locals with a much-needed income.
- Adapt all food systems to eliminate loss or waste of food.
- Access adequate food for healthy diets for all people, all year round.
- This will result in the final stated goal: end malnutrition in all its forms.
Europe’s innovative strategies to reduce food waste
A few European countries and cities have made news for innovative solutions.
Selling ugly vegetables and fruits with discount
One is the Intermarche supermarket chain in France. Noting that the ugly vegetables and fruits are passed over for the more picture-perfect ones in the produce section, resulting in almost 100% waste, the retail chain decided to segregate the produce.
It created a special aisle for the less-than-perfect ones, advertising them as such and offering discounts. This quickly became very popular and the retailer as a whole noted 24% more foot traffic in the stores, which is attributed to this marketing strategy.
Recycling waste food to provide heat and electricity
Edinburgh, Scotland mandates that businesses participate in an eco-food recycling program.
The waste food, separated from the garden waste component is collected and processed at an aerobic digestion plant. There, the food is processed into a liquid and fed into large tanks in the absence of oxygen. This liquid food undergoes a natural biological process during the next 30 days where it breaks down into methane and carbon dioxide gases.
The methane is then used as a fuel to feed a specially designed combustion engine that generates heat and electricity. The heat is used as part of the AD process and the electricity is exported to the grid for use by homes and businesses across the country.
Some AD plants just clean up the methane and inject the gas straight into the gas grid to mix with natural gas. This gas is then used in homes and businesses for heating and cooking. AD also generates large volumes of liquid that is used by local farmers as a natural fertilizer.
Municipal composting program
Residents of Edinburgh are not required to separate the garden waste from food waste. It is all collected together by the City, which then composts it for agriculture, landscaping and horticulture.
The city, like many others also has a very active co-op offering fresh fruit and vegetable delivery for a subscription. The profits go toward helping poor people eat better.
Food challenge for businesses and organizations
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Departments of Agriculture are working hand-in-hand to address the issue of food wasting.
The EPA goals are to:
- Reduce food waste by improving product development, storage, shipping/ordering, marketing, labeling and cooking methods.
- Recover food waste by connecting potential food donor to hunger relief organizations. The EPA has specifically issued guidance to manufacturers and importers on donating misbranded or sub-spec foods.
- Recycle by composting and creating bioenergy and natural fertilizers.
The EPA and USDA food challenge is addressed to businesses, organizations and governments. On the forefront of rising to the challenge are the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, an alliance of food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants; the Grocery Manufacturers Association; and the National Restaurant Association.