Waste not

How the average family could save £680 a year and the UK hospitality industry £724m

by Feb 22, 2013 No Comments

Simple actions by consumers and food retailers can dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted each year and help shape a sustainable future, according to a new global campaign to cut food waste launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners.

The ‘Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Foodprint’ campaign is in support of the SAVE FOOD Initiative to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption – run by the FAO and trade fair organiser, Messe Düsseldorf – and the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Initiatives. The new campaign specifically targets food wasted by consumers, retailers and the hospitality industry.

The campaign harnesses the expertise of organisations such as WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), Feeding the 5,000 and other partners, including national governments, who have considerable experience targeting and changing wasteful practices.

Think. Eat. Save. aims to accelerate action and provide a global vision and information-sharing portal (www.thinkeatsave.org) for the many and diverse initiatives currently under way around the world.

Worldwide, about one-third of all food produced, worth around $1trn, is lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages – harvesting, processing and distribution – while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain.

In a world of seven billion people, set to grow to nine billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense – economically, environmentally and ethically, said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

Aside from the cost implications, all the land, water, fertilizers and labour needed to grow that food is wasted – not to mention the generation of greenhouse gas emissions produced by food decomposing on landfill and the transport of food that is ultimately thrown away, he added. To bring about the vision of a truly sustainable world, we need a transformation in the way we produce and consume our natural resources.

In industrialised regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption, said José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General. This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world.

The global food system has profound implications for the environment, and producing more food than is consumed only exacerbates the pressures:

More than 20 per cent of all cultivated land, 30 per cent of forests and 10 per cent of grasslands are undergoing degradation;

Globally, 9 per cent of the freshwater resources are withdrawn, 70 per cent of this by irrigated agriculture;

Agriculture and land-use changes, like deforestation, contribute to more than 30 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions;

Globally, the agri-food system accounts for nearly 30 per cent of end-user available energy;

Overfishing and poor management contribute to declining numbers of fish, some 30 per cent of marine fish stocks are now considered overexploited.

Part of the trigger for the campaign was the outcome of the Rio+20 Summit last year, in which heads of state and governments gave the go-ahead for a 10-Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Patterns. Developing a SCP programme for the food sector must be a vital element of this framework, given the need to sustain the world’s food production base, reduce associated environmental impacts, and feed a growing human population.

“There can be no other area that is perhaps so emblematic of the opportunities for a far more resource-efficient and sustainable world – and there is no other issue that can unite North and South and consumers and producers everywhere in common cause,” said Steiner.

According to the FAO (http://www.fao.org/save-food/en/), roughly 95 per cent of food loss and waste in developing countries are unintentional losses at early stages of the food supply chain due to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques; storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions; infrastructure; packaging and marketing systems.

However, in the developed world the end of the chain is far more significant. At the food manufacturing and retail level in the developed world, large quantities of food are wasted due to inefficient practices, quality standards that over-emphasise appearance, confusion over date labels and consumers being quick to throw away edible food due to over-buying, inappropriate storage and preparing meals that are too large.

Per-capita waste by consumers is between 95kg and 115kg a year in Europe and North America/Oceania, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6kg to 11kg a year.

According to WRAP, the average UK family could save £680 per year and the UK hospitality sector could save £724m per year by tackling food waste. The UK has shown how tackling food waste through engaging with consumers and establishing collective agreement with retailers and brands, reduces environmental pressures and aids economic growth, said Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP.

“The vast amount of good food which is wasted globally shames us all,” said Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead. “It’s also a shocking waste of all the energy and water used in food production, which leads to higher prices and hurts national economies.

“As Scotland’s Food Minister, I am passionate about both maximising the amount of high quality food we produce and reducing the amount of food we waste. With people going hungry around the world, we each have a personal responsibility not to waste this valuable resource.

“Scotland was among the first countries to take concerted action on food waste through our support for WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste scheme and its work with retailers. More recently, the Scottish Government has promoted a major national food waste campaign. A collective approach is what’s needed, so it’s great to see the United Nations and its agencies becoming major allies in the battle to end food waste.”

Will Peakin Will Peakin

Beginning as a reporter on weekly newspapers in the North-East of England, Will moved to Glasgow and worked as a freelance for a number of UK national newspapers. In 1990 he was appointed News Editor of Scotland on Sunday and in 1995, Scotland Editor of The Sunday Times. In 1999, he and his family moved to the south-west of France where he wrote for The Sunday Times Magazine. Returning to Scotland in 2002, he was Assistant Editor (Features) and Deputy Editor at The Scotsman before joining Holyrood Magazine in 2004. He writes for the magazine's business pages and edits its series of...

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