The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reports that an estimated one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is wasted annually. In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of edible food is thrown away by retailers and households. In the United Kingdom, 8.3 million tons of food is wasted by households each year. To make the world more food secure consumers need to make better use of the food that is produced by wasting less.
Food waste remains a large factor contributing to food insecurity around the world, but consumers can help reduce the amount of food that is wasted each year. (Photo credit: Back to the Garden Inc)
Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways that consumers can help prevent food waste.
1. Compost: In addition to contributing to food insecurity, food waste is harmful to the environment. Rotting food that ends up in landfills releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that is a major contributor to global climate change and can negatively affect crop yields. Composting is a process that allows food waste to be converted into nutrient rich organic fertilizer for gardening.
Compost in Action: In Denver, the city contracts with A1 Organics, a local organic recycling business, to take people’s waste and turn it into compost for local farmers. Similarly, a new pilot program in New York City allows patrons to donate food scraps to a composting company that gives the compost to local farmers.
2. Donate to food banks: Donating food that you don’t plan to use is a great way to save food while helping to feed the needy in your community.
Strawberries are very nutritious, and have been shown to help regulate body sugars, lower inflammation, and even prevent some diseases. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
One team of researchers from Thailand and the United States has been working on improving the storage abilities of delicate crops including strawberries, which are highly perishable and fragile. Strawberries are very nutritious, and have been shown to help regulate body sugars, lower inflammation, and even prevent some diseases. It is estimated, however, that strawberries can only be stored for two days before losing significant levels of these antioxidants and phytonutrients that make them so beneficial. Dr. Korakot Chanjirakul and his colleagues from Kasetsart University in Thailand, as well as scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ran tests in which strawberries were treated with ethanol, and then analyzed for storage capabilities. They found that ethanol helped to boost certain compounds in the berries, which helped to resist decay. This development offers great potential for strawberry farmers. By treating their berries with ethanol, they will be able to store their harvests for longer, thus improving their potential sales and incomes.
Food waste is a global problem. According to food waste expert and Sophie Prize Winner Tristram Stuart, salvaging 25 percent of the food waste from the U.S., the U.K., and Europe could rid the global population of malnutrition. And around the globe, rising global food prices and increasing income inequality are making it hard for many people to afford to feed themselves. New information on food waste and how to prevent it, however, is becoming more readily available and spurring responsible consumerism. In the U.K., the Love Food, Hate Waste initiative reaches out to consumers with a user-friendly website supplying readers with waste-prevention shopping tips, recipes for leftovers, and facts on global food waste.
Image credit: Love Food Hate Waste
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in the U.K. provides research and resources for waste management, recycling, and resource efficiency. In response to concern about rising food prices, food waste, and food security in 2007-2008, the U.K. government began a new campaign under WRAP called Love Food, Hate Waste. This campaign aims to give individuals in the U.K. insight into the problem of food waste, while also providing solutions to prevent food it from occurring in restaurants, schools, households.
The campaign’s website connects consumers to the food waste issue by providing facts about food waste in the U.K. This information, provided through research conducted by WRAP, empowers readers first through food waste education, and then by offering solutions to prevent food waste. WRAP has even generated statistics which quantify the carbon emissions impact of UK food waste: “If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.” Since most consumers have general knowledge of carbon emissions, presenting the impact of food waste—a lesser-known issue—in this light helps readers to put the topic into perspective.
Nourishing the Planet has returned to the USA! We are currently in St. Louis, MO gearing up to head to Des Moines, IA for the 2010 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue Symposium. We’ll be giving a preview briefing of State of the World 2011 before its January launch and blogging live from the symposium as we meet more innovative projects.
photo credit: Raisa Mirza
In this week’s innovation the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) teams up with the Cameroon Government National Program for Roots and Tuber Development (PNDRT) to develop and introduce new and improved cassava varieties to help farmers fight the battle against pests and diseases. The Food Technology Institute in Dakar has discovered a surprising new use for black-eyed peas in bread that makes production less expensive and more nutritious.
In our newest episode of NtP TV correspondent Matt Styslinger reports on innovations that are improving food storage in order to reduce food waste and improve food security. Nourishing the Planet also had an op-ed published in Malawi’s The Nation and was interviewed and featured in Senegal’s Walfadjri. Also check out this interview with Robert Mednick of Toronto non-profit Pencils for Kids and John Craig of New Jersey’s Eliminate Poverty Now who are piloting Farmers of the Future with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to educate youth in sustainable agriculture.
Today, farmers and breeders alike have a greater respect for Mozambique’s indigenous seed varieties. (Photo by Jose Gonzalez de Tanago)
Jessica Milgroom isn’t your typical graduate student. Rather than spending her days in the library of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, her research is done in the field—literally. Since 2006, Jessica has been working with farming communities living inside Limpopo National Park, in southern Mozambique.
When the park was established in 2001, it was essentially “parked on top of 27,000 people,” says Jessica. Some 7,000 of the residents needed to be resettled to other areas, including within the park, which affected their access to food and farmland. Jessica’s job is to see what can be done to improve resettlement food security.
But rather than simply recommending intensified agriculture in the park to make better use of less land, Jessica worked with the local community to collect and identify local seed varieties. One of the major problems in Mozambique, as well as other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is the lack of seed. As a result, farmers are forced to buy low-quality seed because nothing else is available.
Weevils, the farmers tell Jessica, are worse than ever, destroying both the seed and crops they store in traditional open-air, granaries. But the farmers are now building newer granaries that are more tightly sealed and help prevent not only weevils but also mold and aflatoxins from damaging crops.
Today, farmers and breeders alike have a greater respect for Mozambique’s indigenous seed varieties. According to Jessica, one of the biggest accomplishments of the project has been getting breeders and farmers to talk to each other. “It’s been interesting for both groups,” says Jessica, “and it needs to be a regular discussion” between them.
Making metal silos for grain storage (photo credit: FAO)
In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 265 million people are hungry, more than a quarter of the food produced is going bad even before it can be eaten because of poor harvest or storage techniques, severe weather, or disease and pests. In the United States on the other hand, food is actually being thrown away by the billions of kilograms (and contributing to 12 percent of total waste), putting stress on already bursting landfills and contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases—in the U.S. landfills are one of the biggest sources of methane, accounting for 34% of all methane emissions.
And in Afghanistan, the FAO recently provided household metallic silos to roughly 18,000 households in order to improve post-harvest storage. Farmers use the silos to store cereal grains and legumes, protecting them from the weather and pests, and post-harvest losses dropped from between 15 and 20 percent to less than one or two percent.
Recognizing the need to protect harvest in Africa from weather, disease, pests, and poor storage quality, the African Ministerial Council on Science & Technology is promoting research to analyze and promote various technologies and techniques to prevent post harvest waste and improve food processing. And ECHO Farm, in the United States, where Danielle and I spent some time in August, collects innovations of all kinds to help farmers at all stages of cultivation, including after the harvest. Making these innovations accessible to farmers all over the world is ECHO’s mission and we were able to see a demonstration of a number of post-harvest loss prevention techniques that are both simple and affordable.
And progress in waste reduction is being made in the United States, as well. This year San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate that all households separate both recycling and compost from garbage. The Department of the Environment expects this single piece of legislation will result in a 90 percent decrease of household waste in local landfills.
Food collection organizations like City Harvest collect food from restaurants, grocery stores and cafeterias that would otherwise be thrown away and deliver it, free of charge, to local food providers for low income families and the homeless.
Minimizing greenhouse gas emissions is a central theme at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen this year as GHG concentrations reached a record high last year. With landfills producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, and as food prices continue to rise worldwide, the reduction of food waste is an inescapable necessity for people everywhere, from restaurant owners in New York City to maize farmers outside Nairobi, Kenya.