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From Plate to Planet: Unveiling the Impact of Food Waste

Food waste is a massive big problem we are facing. Research suggests we throw away an astonishing 1/3 of all the food that is produced, and the impact  on both people and the environment is profound. From the resources used in production—like water, energy, and land—to the emissions generated during decomposition, every wasted morsel contributes to ecological strain.

When food waste ends up in landfills, it undergoes decomposition, releasing methane—a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Methane has 25 times more global warming potential than CO2. At the same time, over 700 million people suffer from hunger, which could be fed FOUR times if we stopped food waste.

This is multiplied across households, restaurants, and supermarkets across the planet. The discarded food from these places isn't just waste—it represents valuable resources lost and human and environmental harm inflicted."
But here's the crucial message we need to remember. There are solutions.  Small actions by all actors can make a big difference. Actions by all actors along the value chain can have a positive impact on the environment, wildlife, and the entire food system.

Food waste occurs throughout the entire food supply chain, from farm to fork. Let's take a closer look at where and how food waste happens.

Firstly, at the production stage, food can be lost due to spoilage, poor weather conditions, or inadequate storage facilities at the farm level.

Moving along the supply chain, food waste can occur during processing and distribution. Factors such as bruising, trimming, or spoilage during transportation contribute to this waste. Inefficient packaging or transportation issues can also play a role.

At the retail level, supermarkets might discard food nearing its expiry date or with cosmetic imperfections, contributing further to food waste

Food waste also happens at the consumer level. We might buy more than we need, improperly store food leading to spoilage, or cook more than we can eat. All contributing to food waste

Understanding the various stages of the food supply chain where waste occurs is crucial. It allows us to implement targeted strategies and interventions to reduce waste at each level.

There are concrete actions that food companies along the supply chain as well as we as consumers can take to fight food waste at home.

A crucial resources developed by WWF, The Save One Third website offers several practical steps to combat food waste. For instance, retailers can re-design their food displays which are usually overstuffed with more products than can be sold, which they do to maximize visual appeal and sales opportunities. Retailers can also reconsider their policy regarding aesthetic standards for produce, which leads them to not purchase wonky-looking produce from farmers, resulting in tons of perfectly good produce discarded at farms.

Retailers, restaurants and other food services can limit the practice of promotional deals to clear produce with a short shelf-life, which tends to get consumers to buy food they don’t really need.

And all food companies should set food loss and waste targets, invest in tools, methods and technology, and monitor progress. This in their business interest. Research shows that every 1 dollar invested in fighting food waste provides 14 dollars in return.

Companies should not miss out on this opportunity to invest in sustainability. Consumer consciousness has more than doubled between 2020 and 2022, and 91% of consumers say that they are willing to buy from brands and retailers that disclose information on their food waste, while 58% will increase their spend with companies taking active steps to manage food waste. 

As consumers, we can also contribute with actions in our daily life.

Firstly, plan meals and make a shopping list. This helps avoid impulse purchases and ensures you only buy what you need.

Shop smart by buying fruits and vegetables with minor blemishes that are still perfectly good to eat. Choose the right package size to avoid buying more than you can consume.

Store food properly to extend their shelf life. Utilize your refrigerator and freezer effectively.

Get creative with leftovers. Repurpose them into new dishes to avoid them going to waste. There are many online resources for leftover recipe inspiration.

Embrace 'ugly' produce, as they are often just as nutritious and delicious as their cosmetically perfect counterparts. Don't be afraid to buy them! And don't forget, food scraps that can't be eaten can be composted and turned into nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden.

Lastly, educate others about food waste. Raise awareness by talking to your family and friends about the issue and sharing tips to reduce it. Talk to and request retailers and companies to do their fair share too.

Research shows that more and more people are taking these simple steps at home, in their shopping habits and even and in their businesses, contributing to making a real difference in the fight against food waste.