Did you know that if food waste was a country it would be considered the third largest emitter of green house gases after China and USA?


Awareness of food waste has been increasing in recent years however the impact of it on various levels still seems to be forgotten among the many other eye catching topics floating around in society. Food waste is a social and humanitarian issue of course but also one that is affecting our climate in ways I never imagined. In my research I found Project Drawdown which through careful analysis charted the top 100 solutions for climate change. They estimate that food waste is the third most consequential factor that needs to be addressed if we aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and the most import if we fail that and aim for 2 degrees Celsius. The same project also ranks plant rich diets as the 4th most important factor for combating climate change. I was surprised the food waste aspect was such a large contributor to climate change on top of being a terrible occurrence when so many people on this planet are malnourished and go hungry every day.

So, food waste and what we put on our plates every day affect climate change at a high degree but how does it all link up? Well first of all, we don’t have a well functioning global food system today and there are many aspects to consider when it comes to creating a sustainable one. We need a system that can sustain our growing global population and one that can correct both the current hunger and malnourishment crisis as well as the issue of over consumption in more wealthy countries while also reducing the climate impact of production. Food also needs to be secured and prices stable for those with little means and the food available to us at large needs to be of good nutritional value. At the moment we have issues on so many levels when it comes to food security and waste alike and there’s need for systemic as well as individual change to overcome them. And as you can tell it’s difficult to speak about food waste from only one point of view as the humanitarian and environmental issues intertwine.

When it comes to food waste (and security) and the climate specifically there are many issues and the two are closely linked entities affecting each other; creating and perpetuating issues on both sides. For starters intensive farming the way it’s done today comes with a high environmental impact price. For example the deforestation of tropical forests to give way for additional farm land is at a high cost for the climate. These forests are necessary for absorbing green house gases, they are often called our planet’s lungs, and they also serve as a home to many plants and animals. As a consequence of this as well as the use of various pesticides and the climate change that comes with such practices many species are going extinct. Among them bees that are vital pollinators in our ecosystems as well as food systems. Another example of the way current mainstream farming practices affect the environments they inhabit is found in the soils in which we grow our food and today 33%, a third of all farm land, is depleted from vital nutrients making them inadequate for effective food production.

In the West my observations and personal experience tell me most of us are so disconnected from the process of food production that we also don’t consider the huge amount of resources required to get food to our tables. An enormous amount of land, water and energy is required to feed us all. So much as 50% of the worlds habitable land is used in agriculture and 77% of that land is used for animal agriculture (some of it for pasture but mainly for growing feed for animals). With that said we can reflect back on the fact that choosing a plant-based diet significantly reduces the impact we have on the environment, on top of not contributing to the suffering and death of the 72 billion land animals that are killed each year for industrial agriculture. It’s also worth considering acknowledging how most of deforestation is made to accommodate land use for growing feed for livestock as the demand for meat has and keeps increasing globally. In fact studies show that the grain fed to livestock around the world actually meets the caloric needs of almost 9 billion people, that is more than the world’s population today.

"30% of all food produced globally each year goes to waste according to the UN"

If those figures aren’t baffling enough a jolting 30% of all food produced globally each year goes to waste according to the UN. Not all of this waste happens in our homes of course but in the more wealthy parts of the world such as Europe and North America food wasted tallies up to about 95-115 kg per capita a year while in comparison the numbers in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South East Asia come to only 6-11 kg. The waste landscape looks very different depending whre you are in the world at large and the same goes for food waste. In the less wealthy parts of the world food waste mainly happens in the production and storage stage due to a lack of economic and technological resources while in the wealthier parts more of the food is wasted at the consumer end.

But what happens with the food before it reaches the consumer at large you might be wondering and waste starts already at farms where for example wonky or discoloured veg is discarded because it doesn’t fit our aesthetic for the perfect carrot as an example. Even before that crops might go to waste at the hand of extreme weather. The waste then continues in our food shops as stores always stock their shelves to the brim to make it look more appealing to us, encouraging us to buy more of whatever they’re selling. Much of the food ends up in the bin because of how it’s packaged, due to how it’s labeled with best before dates or simply because it’s visibly starting to go off on the shelf. In addition consumers often buy more than we need and end up throwing food away at home as well. In fact when it comes to fruit and veg as much as 45% goes to waste globally, an even more daunting number then the 30% of food wasted at large.

But what happens to the wasted food then? Well, unfortunately the food ending up in landfill has dire affects on the climate as well. You see, as food rots in landfill it creates a green house gas called methane. It’s the gas you might correlate with cow flatulence but what you maybe didn’t know is that methane is up to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This means it’s in all of our best interest that food never ends up in landfill.

At the end of the day there are many sources of food waste that we as individuals do not have direct control over. The same way that we are not personally responsible for correcting a flawed food system. These issues require systemic change and require  us as democratic citizens to consider these issues that concern us all, and will continue to become more accute, as we use our influence, voice and vote. However, we do have control of the food we bring into our homes and many of us also have the socio-economic means to consider and change our approach to diet and lifestyle. Having this knowledge that I’ve just shared with you has brought me a great respect for the food I buy and being able to act with this in mind gives me power I think. It has led me to think of ways in which I can combat food waste at home and I’m hoping it will do the same for you!

In the video at the top of this post you will find my top 5 practical tips for reducing food waste at home and together, by applying these principles in our day to day, we can begin to make a difference. Let’s take steps each day to reduce that 30% of food wasted through empowering ourselves with knowledge of our food systems, respect for our finite natural resources and the people who produce and bring us our food and by nourishing ourselves with plant focused diets.