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.
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.
According to a recent report released by WWF UK, the increased use of soy beans has had painful consequences for the Cerrado region of Brazil. The Cerrado is the unique savannah south of the Amazon Rainforest. This landscape, once covering a quarter of Brazil, holds an amazing 5 percent of all life on Earth. Since the prehistoric days when there was only one continent, this grassy expanse has harbored not only 11,000 flowering plants (nearly half are found only in the Cerrado) but also countless animal species, including the giant anteater and maned wolf. This rich history also imbues the land with cultural significance, as it has played a key role for over 10,000 years in the culture and religion of a variety of indigenous Brazilian societies.
This rock painting in the Cerrado region provides evidence of human life in the area 12,000 years ago. (Photo Credit: WWF Brazil)
Currently, however, the Cerrado is being converted into farmland for the express purpose of growing soybeans (soya). In only 15 years, production of soy has doubled, now covering an area almost the size of Egypt worldwide. In Brazil, there are 24.1 million hectares planted with soy, equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom. Such a prolific conversion has devastated the natural biodiversity of the region. A recent survey suggests that by 2008, almost half of the original vegetation cover had been lost, disappearing at a rate significantly greater than the Amazon rainforest. This also has significant consequences for climate change. According to WWF, in the six year period between 2002 and 2008, land-use change in the Cerrado released 275 million tons of CO2 per year-more than half the total emissions for the United Kingdom.
A whopping 80 percent of the soy grown worldwide is used for feeding cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock, according to the report. Current trends suggest that developing countries will continue to increase their meat consumption, until they match levels of developed countries. If soy remains one of the main components of livestock feed, then soy production will increase. Since most land planted with soy has already achieved maximum production levels (only the Indian region has room for improving yields), demand for land for soy planting will grow.
Like the United States, the United Kingdom has seen honeybee populations plummet in the last couple of years. The Co-operative Group—a U.K.-based consumer cooperative—has launched an awareness campaign around the issue, and a comprehensive plan of action. The US$1.2 million campaign, called Plan Bee, includes the establishment of long rows of bee-friendly habitats across the country to act as bee corridors. The corridors will also support other key pollinator species like bumble bees, hover flies, butterflies, and moths.
Plans to establish bee corridors are in the works in the U.K. in an effort to reverse the trend of alarming declines in bee populations (Photo Credit: The Co-operative Group)
“We want people to understand there’s a problem,” says Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at The Co-operative. “And we also want to empower people to thinking there’s something they can do about it.” The Plan Bee campaign is promoting pollinator-friendly gardens in urban areas, distributing some 900,000 packets of wildflower seeds, and supporting members of the Co-operative to become beekeepers.
“[Bees] pollinate a vast number of crops. They pollinate all the strawberries, all the raspberries, apples, pears… They’re absolutely essential to agriculture,” says Senior Technical Manager Simon Press. “On our own farms this forthcoming season, we’re going to be putting wildflower seed mixes onto the headlands of the fields to encourage the bees.” Honeybees pollinate as much as one-third of the food grown in the U.K.
In the U.S., commercial beekeepers on the East Coast began reporting dramatic declines in their honeybee colonies in 2006. Scientists have dubbed the mysterious phenomenon colony collapse disorder (CCD), and it has spread to most states. Overall, annual losses of managed bee colonies in the U.S. are around 30 percent. The U.K. is now seeing similar losses. “We’re now losing between 20 and 30 percent of our entire stock every winter,” says Paddy Wallace of Quince Honey Farm in Devon County in southwestern England. With 11,000 farm holdings in the county, agriculture is an important industry. “A shortage of bees means not just a shortage of honey, but everything else as well,” says Wallace.
The event that was hosted in partnership with the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN). Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, FANRPAN Chief Executive Officer, and Danielle Nierenberg, Nourishing the Planet co-Project Director, joined local agricultural experts—including Sithembile Ndema, State of the World 2011 contributing author and FANRPAN Program Manager—to discuss agricultural innovations that are working to alleviate hunger in South Africa and across sub-Saharan Africa.
Other highlights from the week include: This week’s episode of Nourishing the Planet TV research intern Kaia Clarke discusses how with the increased prevalence of cell phones worldwide, farmers are gaining even more access to the information they need to improve their harvests and get a fair price for their crops at local markets.
A 3 minute animated video from the British organization, Farming Futures, illustrates how eco-agricultural farming practices like permaculture and composting are not only better for the environment, they are also better for farmers and their business. According to the video, “there are all kinds of renewable technologies, including biogmas, solar and anaerobic digesters.” “They can provide an extra income stream to your farm as well as cut back on emissions.” Although the video is aimed at farmers in the United Kingdom, the innovations it promotes can benefit farmers—and ecosystems— all over the world.
“More investments are needed in sustainable agricultural research to make up for the shortcomings of the past 50 years of research which focused on high input agriculture. Its time to invest in agroecology and organic farming practices, make sure that the innovations reach the farmers and these are supported in integrating them with their knowledge. The farmers must also have a feedback mechanism to the scientists.”
In a recently published report, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations stated that tea prices have reached an “unprecedented high.” Traditional import markets in developed countries are almost at full capacity, but markets in tea producing countries, including Kenya and United Republic of Tanzania, are largely untapped. These countries consume just one-tenth of tea in places like the United Kingdom and Russia. Based on these findings, FAO concluded that pushing domestic consumption of the beverage in tea-producing countries could help improve food security.
In Kenya, the world’s largest tea producing country after China, tea accounts for 35 percent of the country’s export receipts and covers its entire food import bill. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
How does drinking tea improve food security, one might ask? Despite its much publicized health benefits, people cannot survive on tea alone.
The reason is tea is a cash crop. In Kenya, the world’s largest tea producing country after China, tea accounts for 35 percent of the country’s export receipts and covers its entire food import bill. In other words, increasing income from cash crops such as tea can increase a country’s ability to buy food.
In addition, growing tea also brings job opportunities and income for local populations. Unilever, owner of the brands Lipton and PG Tips, is the largest tea retailer in the world. Its global production totals over 3 million tons and it employs more than 2 million people. In Kenya alone, it employs 16,000 people and 40,000 people depend on the income of these workers for a living.
It makes sense to encourage tea consumption in producing countries as tea sold domestically means money retained in the local economy. However, rising tea prices may pose a barrier for consumption in poor consumers of developing countries. It was indicated in the report that tea prices rose by 12 percent in producing countries in 2009. Also, rural populations who do not purchase food from supermarkets may find it difficult to increase consumption, as most tea is sold in these outlets.
It turns out that the rise in tea price is not only worrisome for attracting potential consumers, but for retaining existing ones. In traditional markets, it has begun to affect consumer’s choice to keep consuming the beverage.
With the sustainability of global tea economy at stake, those involved in tea production and trade agree that the first line of action is to advertise green tea’s health benefits heavily to boost its consumption, and increase the demand in producer countries. Doing so, prices abroad would remain at an acceptable level for consumers, retailers could satiate their appetite for more tea-drinkers and producers could continue to grow more tea.
FAO warned against “increasing the size of tea plantations,” which could “damage prices in the long run.” The audience addressed here would be large corporations such as Unilever. Decisions these companies make, such as expanding production, could have a much bigger impact on market prices than any change in tea consumption in producing countries.
In the face of over-supply and volatile tea prices, it may be worthwhile for tea producing countries to explore more direct ways to increase food security. In Tanzania, organizations such as the World Vegetable Center are already helping farmers grow indigenous food crops such as fruit and vegetables with high nutritive value. These crops could allow farmers to feed themselves and sell produce that fetch higher prices in domestic markets, thus increasing incomes and reducing dependency on imported foods.
Methane gas produced by livestock accounts for an estimated 4 percent of the U.K.'s total carbon emissions. (Photo credit: FAO)
McDonald’s is hoping to change the way consumers view fast food. In partnership with the E-CO2 Project, an independent U.K. consulting firm, the company is launching a three-year study to assess methane production from beef cows in the United Kingdom, as well as ways to reduce livestock production of the greenhouse gas.
A burger joint famous for drive-thru windows and Happy Meals is certainly not the first business that comes to mind when one thinks about environmental sustainability. But with increasing mainstream awareness of the negative consequences of beef production for both human health and the environment, the fast-food giant is looking to reposition itself as leader of green business models.
McDonald’s purchases beef from more than 16,000 British and Irish farmers, who raise their cattle in large feedlots. The methane gas produced by livestock accounts for an estimated 4 percent of the U.K.’s total carbon emissions. McDonald’s hopes that the results of the study will help guide efforts to reduce suppliers’ methane production. The initiative also will likely help “green” the corporation’s image in the minds of an increasingly environmentally conscious public.