The global food system is "the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries." —United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
Food waste places immense pressure on our environment around the world. More than one-third of all food that is produced globally is spoiled or wasted. Worse, global food waste is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases: organic matter breaking down in landfills releases methane gas, which is the second most common greenhouse gas, 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and has devastating effects on our climate. Our global food chains are so unsustainable that scientists estimate that it can collapse by 2050 if we don't change our systems and habits.
In the US alone, food waste is estimated between 30-40% of the food supply (about 219 lbs per person!) and North Americans are discarding over 40 million tons of food each year. Food is lost at each stage from the farms who produce it to processing plants, retailers, restaurants, and in our own homes. According to Dana Gunders from the National Resources Defense Council, homes remain the largest source of food waste (and not the "ugly" fruit and vegetable companies that lead people to believe it is retailers and farmers). Household food losses are responsible for eight times the energy waste of farms.
Food waste also wastes a huge amount of water, accounting for 25% of all freshwater consumption in the US each year and is one of the leading causes of water pollution.
Why does so much food get wasted? In our overabundance of food production, we tend to toss away perfectly edible food due to misreading labels like "best before" and "sell by" as well as food spoilage.
There is also not enough data and research on the topic and many people are not yet aware of the problem. With so much food insecurity around the world as well as the use of natural resources for agriculture, food waste is a big problem. We need to re-connect to our food, where it comes from and the true consequences of tossing it in the bin.
5 Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste at Home
1. Store food correctly. Garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions do not need to be refrigerated. Separate foods that produce ethylene gas like bananas and peaches to reduce early spoilage. Have extra fruits or veggies? Many of them can be frozen until you need them.
2. Go old school: learn to preserve food by pickling, canning, freeze-drying, and fermenting food to last longer. You can also make broth or stock out of scraps. Preserving food will save on your food bill as well!
3. Don't be fooled by the "sell by" date. Labels are estimated and sometimes regulated (must expire after one year) even if the food is fine. They're not hard-and-fast rules. About 20% of food waste in the US the "before date" labels. Check and see if the item is still okay before tossing it.
4. Start a compost bin. Rather than discarding food, use it to break down into rich, nutritious soil. Compost scraps can be stored in a freezer and then you can discard at a compost collection site.
5. Buy less. If you are prone to filling up the cart, make a meal plan for the week to ensure that everything gets used up. Eat the food you purchased last time before heading to the market. Save leftovers.