Just as food safety is everyone’s business, we all must share responsibility for reducing food waste. Globally, food waste is a monumental problem that strains natural resources, undermines healthy economies and contributes to food insecurity. Fortunately, a number of organizations — from charities and churches to governments and multinational corporations — are making progress against food waste.
A snapshot of the problem
We’ve shared these statistics before, but the numbers that tell the tale of food waste bear repeating. In the U.S., 40 percent of all the food produced goes to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. One in six Americans are food-insecure, and if we could reduce food loss by a mere 15 percent, we could feed more than 25 million Americans annually, the NRDC says.
Globally, approximately a third of all the food produced is lost or wasted, the United Nations estimates. About 1.3 metric tons of edible food goes to waste in the world each year, and production of that wasted food dumps about 3.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the U.N. says.
Reducing food waste will take a multi-part effort and cooperation from individuals and organizations around the world. At home, Americans can take steps to reduce the amount of food they throw away every day in their own homes. Additionally, organizations are employing a variety of tactics to attack the problem of food waste on multiple fronts, including:
- Collecting and reusing food waste. Food pantries and a number of other organizations engage in food recovery — the process of collecting and redistributing edible food that would otherwise be wasted. Sources for recovered food range from restaurants and coffee shops to grocery stores and farms. Businesses that donate reclaimable food can get federal tax deductions, and the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act shields donors from food-related liability, as long as the company did not act negligently or intentionally to cause harm to donation recipients.
- Creating more efficient production processes. In North America, the production phase accounts for 17 percent of food waste, according to the World Resources Institute. In less developed areas of the world, as much as 39 percent of discarded food is wasted in production, WRI data shows. By improving manufacturing processes to use more and discard less, food manufacturers are contributing to the overall effort to reduce food waste.
- Recycling unavoidable food waste. Actual waste products are inevitable in any processing system, and some food manufacturers and organizations are finding ways to recycle unavoidable waste product. Materials like fruit and vegetable trimmings, peels and leftover ingredients can be recycled into animal feed, compost, fertilizer and biofuels.
- Improving harvesting methods. In North America, the U.N. says, about a third of food waste occurs at the point of production — the farms where produce is harvested. Food waste on farms occurs for multiple reasons. Farmers may plant more than they can actually harvest in order to ensure they have product for sale in case of a weather-related or other natural disaster that damages a portion of their crops. They may also choose to leave produce in the field and plow it under rather than expend the time, energy and labor to harvest the produce if they know they won’t be able to get a good price for it. A number of organizations help train farmers around the world in best practices to reduce waste before, during and after harvesting. Cooperatives and professional associations can also help reduce food losses by helping farmers better understand the market, plan more efficiently, improve their ability to market what they produce, and allow them to take advantage of economies of scale, the U.N. says.
- Limiting breakage during transport. Damage to perishables during transit between production point and point of sale also contributes to food waste. Ample marketing research shows American consumers are less likely to buy produce that looks bruised or damaged, even if it is otherwise perfectly fine to eat. Damaged product can’t be sold and often gets thrown away. Improving food packaging to better protect product is one way food distributors and retail operations can help reduce food waste. The impact can be significant; Tosca’s RPCs for eggs have been shown to help reduce shrink by 50 percent.
Reducing food waste is an ongoing battle that should matter to everyone. Every step, improvement, and process change that reduces food waste is good for all of us. What tactics does your organization deploy to help with the fight?