Posts Tagged ‘Food Waste’

Dec20

Putting a Dollar Value on Food Waste Estimates

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By Carol Dreibelbis

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about one-third—or 1.3 billion metric tons—of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste each year. While it is easy to recognize the enormity of this number, it is much more difficult to make sense of it in a useful way. An October 2012 study by Jean Buzby and Jeffrey Hyman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks to make food waste estimates more meaningful by attaching a dollar value.

Research from the USDA finds that Americans waste an average of US$544 worth of food per person per year. (Photo Credit: biocycle.net)

The study measures the value of food loss in the United States at the retail (“supermarkets, megastores like Walmart, and other retail outlets”) and consumer (“food consumed at home and away from home”) levels. Findings indicate that US$165.6 billion worth of food was lost at these levels in 2008. This translates to the loss of an average of US$1.49 worth of food per person per day—totaling about US$544 per person per year—at the retail and consumer levels. At the consumer level, alone, the average American wasted almost 10 percent of the amount spent on his or her food in 2008.

Food losses on this scale are concerning, especially when viewed in the context of a growing global population. As the study explains, “The United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050 and this growth will require at least a 70 percent increase in food production, net of crops used for biofuels.” Considering that a reduction of food loss at the consumer and retail levels by just one percent would keep US$1.66 billion worth of food in the food supply, limiting food waste could play a major role in feeding future populations.

Food waste also places an unnecessarily heavy burden on the environment. The production, processing, storage, and transportation of food that ultimately goes to waste still consumes natural resources and other inputs, while also releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants that stem from the food system. For example, the study points out that the production of wasted food consumes over 25 percent of all freshwater used in the U.S. and around 300 million barrels of oil.

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Oct27

Zeer Pots: A Simple Way to Reduce Post-Harvest Food Waste

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By Stephanie Buglione           

Post-harvest food losses occur mainly in the developing world, and can be attributed to poor storage facilities, inadequate distribution networks, and low investment in food production. Improved storage conditions could drastically reduce this food waste, yet technologies must be affordable and realistic to be sustainable in these regions.

Zeer pots can help to prevent post-harvest food waste. (Photo Credit: FC Eco Camp)

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in Guinea, where up to 80 percent of citizens depend on agriculture for their incomes, about 20 percent of crops are lost in the post-harvest stage. These losses reduce the profit for farmers and increase prices for consumers. In developing countries where the majority of disposable income is spent on food, post-harvest losses can be financially damaging.

In Zambia, storage containers are commonly built out of twigs, poles, or plastic bags. Unsealed, unrefrigerated containers such as these can allow contamination from pests, rodents, and fungi. In hot climates, perishable foods such as berries and tomatoes typically do not last longer than two days without refrigeration. Without proper storage facilities, rural farmers have to watch their ripened crops succumb to rot, infestation, and mold.

Practical Action, a nongovernmental organization that works with farmers in Southern Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, encourages the use of earthenware refrigerators called zeer pots to help prevent post-harvest food waste. The pot-in-pot refrigerator design keeps fruits and vegetables cool by harnessing the principle of evaporative cooling. These pots can extend the shelf life of harvested crops by up to 20 days by reducing storage temperature.

The design consists of a large outer pot and a smaller inner pot, both made from locally available clay. Wet sand is added between the two pots and is kept moist. Evaporation of the liquid in the sand draws heat out of the inner pot, in which food can be stored.

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Sep18

FAO Says Food Waste Harms Climate, Water, Land, and Biodiversity

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By Sophie Wenzlau

The world wastes 1.3 billion tons of food annually—a third of all the food that’s produced—according to a report published last week by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This waste not only results in major economic loss, but also causes significant harm to the natural resources that we rely on for food production. It also has moral implications, given that an estimated 870 million people go to bed hungry every night.

Food that is produced but not eaten adds 3.3 billion tons of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere every year. (Photo Credit: SeamePost.com)

The report, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources, analyzes the impacts of global food waste from an environmental perspective, looking specifically at its consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.

According to the report’s authors, food that is produced but not eaten consumes a volume of water three times greater than Lake Geneva and adds 3.3 billion tons of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere every year—more than the entire global shipping industry. Approximately 1.4 billion hectares of land—28 percent of the world’s agricultural area—is used annually to produce this food.

In addition to its environmental impacts, the FAO estimates the direct economic consequences of food waste (excluding fish and seafood) to be $750 billion annually.

“We all—farmers and fishers; food processers and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers—must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. (more…)

Aug19

Reducing Food Waste While Feeding the Hungry

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By Carol Dreibelbis

According to a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) last year, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. Americans throw away about US$165 billion worth of food each year—or about 9 kilograms of food per person each month—which then ends up in landfills, where it accounts for about a quarter of U.S. methane emissions.

Americans throw away about 9 kilograms of food per person per month, which ends up in landfills, where it accounts for roughly a quarter of U.S. methane emissions. (Photo Credit: Frank Pascual)

The NRDC’s farm-to-fork-to-landfill report makes clear that Americans not only eat more than other nations, but they also waste more. In fact, the average American wastes 10 times as much food as the average Southeast Asian. While one in six Americans is food insecure, only 60 percent of the nation’s food is consumed. The report also points out that reducing food waste by just 15 percent would save enough food to feed more than 25 million people annually.

As of November 2011, American schools are fully equipped to do their part in both cutting food waste and feeding hungry people. While food donors who give to food pantries and food banks are protected from all liability under the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, recent legislation went a step further by explicitly protecting public schools that donate unused food. Now that schools can donate food without risk, they are free to put their unused food to good use.

Schools of all kinds are answering the call for food donations. Dranesville Elementary School in Herndon, VA implemented a new donation program in March of 2012 to donate unopened cafeteria food to local shelters and food banks. Previously, the school cafeteria threw away about 12.25 kilograms of food each day. Many colleges and universities also have food donation programs through their volunteering or civic engagement programs. Student volunteers at Princeton University pick up unused food from campus dining halls several times each week and deliver it to a local soup kitchen. (more…)

Jun05

World Environment Day 2013: Five Ways to Preserve Food and Prevent Waste

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By Sophie Wenzlau

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day—celebrated today—is Think.Eat.Save., a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) campaign aimed at curbing food waste and food loss.

Approximately one third of the food produced for human consumption every year—roughly 1.3 billion tons—is lost or wasted in fields, grocery stores, and kitchens around the world, to the detriment of bank accounts and the environment. In addition to its moral implications, food waste leads to the unnecessary consumption of land, water, and energy resources, and contributes to environmental problems such as deforestation, water scarcity, and pollution.

Canning extra produce can prevent food waste. (Photo Credit: InnBrooklyn)

Rotting food is also a significant source of methane emissions, which contribute to global climate change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methane is one of the most environmentally harmful greenhouse gases—twenty times more so than carbon dioxide.

In honor of World Environment Day, Nourishing the Planet recommends five low-tech ways to make use of the food hiding in the bottom of your refrigerator.

1. Freeze it. If you bought too many fruits, vegetables, or loaves of bread, consider tossing extras in the freezer. With minimal preparation, many foods can be stored at low temperatures for weeks or months at a time, and used as needed. To save soft fruit—such as berries, kiwi, and peaches—mix one cup of fruit with one teaspoon sugar, let stand until the juices release, transfer to a freezer-safe bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze for up to nine months. To save firmer fruit—such as apples and pears—simmer in a covered pot with a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of water, and a few tablespoons of sugar until just limp, then transfer to a container and freeze. For information on freezing bread, vegetables, and herbs, see this article on curbing food waste.

2. Dry it. Dehydration is one of the oldest and simplest methods of food preservation; dried foods keep well because their water content is low, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds. Though there are many ways to dry food, common methods include sun drying, air drying, oven drying, dehydrating, and smoking. If you have ever found yourself with an excess of quickly-wilting fresh herbs, drying is an easy way to save them for later. To dry less tender herbs—such as rosemary, sage, thyme, summer savory, and parsley—simply tie them into small bundles and hang them to air dry, preferably indoors. To dry tender herbs with a higher moisture content—such as basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm, and mint—hang a small bunch inside a paper bag, close the top with a rubber band, and punch holes in the sides for ventilation. Place the bag in an area where air currents will circulate and allow to dry. For more information about drying, see the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s (NCHFP) website.

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Mar14

Readers’ Responses: Curbing Food Waste to Improve Human and Environmental Health

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In our February newsletter, we wrote about the environmental and humanitarian consequences of food waste. Worldwide, 30 to 40 percent of all food produced is either lost or wasted between the stages of production and consumption. We asked readers to send us their ideas on how to curb food waste, and we got many thoughtful and innovative responses.

Many readers responded to our February newsletter about how to reduce food waste. (Photo credit: Zero Waste Europe)

Some of our readers who own or work on farms wrote about their methods of recycling excess organic matter. Jan Steinman of Vancouver, Canada, wrote: “I live on a co-op farm, and nothing is wasted. We have a ‘three bucket’ system in the house. What people don’t want goes in the goat bucket, as appropriate (vegetable trimmings, etc.). If it isn’t suitable for the goats, it goes in the chicken bucket (moldy bread or cheese, cooked grains or legumes, etc.). Finally, if neither humans nor goats nor chickens will eat it, it goes into compost.”

Noting that many readers do not raise their own goats or chickens, Jan added, “If they go to a farmers market, they can surely find someone who will put their ‘waste’ to a higher use.”

For farmers who have more produce than they can sell or eat, organizations are cropping up to help get this food to hungry consumers. Peter Burkard wrote, “Here in Sarasota, Florida we have a food gleaning project run by Transition Sarasota which saves food from the fields that would otherwise go to waste and donates it to the local food bank.”

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Feb28

To Combat Scarcity, Increase Water-Use Efficiency in Agriculture

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By Sophie Wenzlau

This blog was originally published as part of an online consultation organized by The Broker  on the role of water in the post-2015 development agenda. Click here to read the original post. 

Photo Credit: World Bank

The South Centre has argued that “as oil conflicts were central to 20th century history, the struggle over freshwater is set to shape a new turning point in the world order.” Water scarcity, which already affects one in three people on earth, is set to increase in magnitude and scope as the global population grows, increasing affluence drives up demand, and the climate changes. According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), “half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including 75 to 250 million people in Africa.” In the Sahel region of Africa, desertification caused by overgrazing, unsustainable farming, and the collection of wood for fuel is already responsible for systemic crop failure, soil erosion, and devastating famine. Failure to act on water scarcity will lead to more of the same.

Though water scarcity will surely play a defining role in the 21st century, the assumption that ‘water wars’ are inevitable is overly deterministic and assumes the worst of people. Historically, the need to manage trans-group or trans-boundary water basins has actually tended to facilitate cooperation between groups with competing interests. In the last fifty years, there have been only 37 incidents of acute conflict over water, while during the same period, approximately 295 international water agreements were negotiated and signed. According to Nidal Salim, director of the Global Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, the potential to peacefully overcome water scarcity does exist; it depends on political will, trust between nations, and real manifestations of cooperation.

To peacefully overcome water scarcity, leaders at all levels must prioritize efforts to cooperatively increase water-use efficiency, reduce water waste, and manage demand.

Increasing efficiency in irrigation—which is responsible for the consumption of 70 percent of the world’s total water withdrawal—would be a sensible place to start. Improved water management in agriculture could increase global water availability, catalyze development, reduce soil erosion, and lead to increased and diversified agricultural yields, augmenting our ability to feed a population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

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Feb08

Food Waste and Recycling in China: A Growing Trend?

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 By Wanqing Zhou

Note: an earlier version of this article was previously published, in two installments, by Brighter Green.

Waitresses clear tables in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. (Photo credit: China.org.cn)

As household incomes, urban populations, and overall food consumption in China continue to rise, the country faces serious problems of food waste, natural resource scarcity, and overflowing landfills. Currently, over 200 billion Yuan’s (US$32 billion) worth of food is thrown away annually nationwide, even as 128 million Chinese live below the poverty line and often lack sufficient food.

In November 2012, the Rome Film Festival premiered “Back to 1942,” which tells the story of a famine in the central Henan Province during World War II.  The film spurred discussion about the Great Famine, in which 45 million people starved as a consequence of the Great Leap Forward, the country’s modernizing effort back in the late 1950s. Today, the Great Famine still affects the psyche of the average Chinese citizen—higher average incomes have led, in many cases, to overconsumption and waste of food.

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Oct21

Students Protest New, Healthier School Lunches

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, schools across the United States are serving healthier school lunches this academic year. School lunches must meet new nutritional guidelines—such as including fruits and vegetables and limiting fats and sodium—for schools to receive extra federal lunch aid. Calories counts are also restricted: high school, middle school, and elementary school lunches must now be no more than 850, 700, and 650 calories, respectively. Although nutrition and health advocates celebrate this change, a recent article in The New York Times indicates that many students feel differently.

Food waste has increased due to healthier school lunches this year (Photo credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times)

Students in districts around the country have responded to the healthier lunches with boycotts and strikes. According to Shawn McNulty, principal at Mukwonago High School in Wisconsin, participation in the school lunch program had fallen 70 percent as a result of student action. “There is a reduction in nacho chips, there is a reduction in garlic bread, but there’s actually an increase in fruits and vegetables,” Mr. McNulty said. “That’s a tough sell for kids, and I would be grumbling, too, if I was 17 years old.” Students are also throwing away more food in New York City and elsewhere.

Food service directors are using a variety of strategies to encourage students to eat fruits and vegetables, including asking teachers to discuss healthy food in class, giving out free samples, and educating students about where their food comes from and how it is produced. But, schools may simply need to wait for students to grow accustomed to new menu options: according to William J. McCarthy, professor of public health and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, children must be exposed to vegetables 10 to 12 times before they eat them on their own. “If our task is to get young kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, we have to be willing to put up with the waste,” he said.

How would you suggest that we teach kids to eat and value healthy foods? Tell us in the comments below!  

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Oct16

21 Awesome Policies Changing the Food System!

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Today we celebrate World Food Day in commemoration of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is a chance to renew our commitment to sustainable and equitable agriculture as a means of ending world hunger.

Around the world, governments and organizations alike have made huge strides towards achieving the principles on which the FAO was founded. Governments on every continent have taken significant steps to change food systems for the better, making them more sustainable, healthy, and accessible to all. Today, we showcase just 21 of the many recent policies and laws enacted by governments worldwide that are helping to change the food system, promote sustainable agriculture, and eradicate hunger.

1. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 with a focus on improving the nutrition of children across the United States. Authorizing funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs, this legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs and promote healthy eating habits among the nation’s youth. Read more about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and 15 innovations making school meals healthier and more sustainable on the Nourishing the Planet blog.

2. The Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) was founded in 2011 to help improve the provision of services to farmers in the country. It focuses on adapting its policies to local needs, developing sustainable production systems, and providing farmers and consumers with education, techniques, and services to help supply Rwandans with better foods. The RAB has received praise for its efforts from organizations like the Executive Board of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa.

3. Beginning in 2008, the Australian government committed $12.8 million for 190 primary schools across Australia to participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Hoping to encourage healthy and nutritious eating habits in young Australians, the program works with primary schools to teach students how to grow, harvest, prepare, and share fresh food.

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