Why Food Waste May Be One of The Most Pressing Climate Concerns

4 October, 2021 | Mayukh Debnath

According to a UN report, the household food wasted in India was estimated to be about 68.7 million tonnes a year, while an estimated 931 million tonnes of food were wasted globally in 2019, enough...

Our challenge today should not be to grow more food but to feed more people while taking care that what we already produce does not get wasted. From delivering leftovers to those in need to freezing food and shopping smarter, there are plenty of actions we can take as consumers to make a big change. As per reports, an estimated one-third of all food produced in the world goes to waste. As per a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations report, an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food including fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy get lost or spoiled during distribution or thrown away at restaurants, schools or social events. Surprisingly, these could be calories to feed every undernourished or starved person on the planet. However, food waste today is not just a humanitarian concern but an environmental one too.

Wasted food produces greenhouse gases responsible for global warming

Did you know that the food that goes to the landfill and rots produces methane – a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide? When we waste food, we not only deprive a starving human of a meal but also waste all the energy, labour and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport and package it. Apart from the US, India is also one of the countries where a lot of food is wasted in lavish weddings or festivals. This is an alarming concern for a country whose population continues to rise and problems of malnutrition of undernourishment still persist. According to a 2011 FAO assessment, global food losses and waste also means a missed opportunity for the economy and food security, apart from the wastage of natural resources used for growing food. 

According to a UN report, the household food wasted in India was estimated to be about 68.7 million tonnes a year, while an estimated 931 million tonnes of food were wasted globally in 2019, enough to circle the Earth seven times.

Carbon footprint of global food wastage

A report published in the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says that about 6%-8% of all greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity could be reduced if we stop wasting food. Despite meat being a relatively low contributor to global food wastage in terms of volumes (less than 5% of total food wastage), it has a significant impact on climate change, contributing to over 20% of the carbon footprint of total food waste.  Meat consumption is responsible for releasing greenhouse gases such as methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide. These gases contribute to climate change, such as global warming. Meat and dairy account for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). This is the reason why the US and China contribute to greenhouse gas emissions due to the high consumption of non-vegetarian food. 

What can be done at a personal level to avoid food waste

First of all, avoid buying too much, always make a shopping list. Plan ahead and buy only what you need. Store the food correctly and use your freezer to avoid food wastage. Be creative with leftovers; there are plenty of recipes to make sumptuous meals using leftover food. Rather than throwing away too ripe fruits and vegetables, you can blend, bake or boil them to make sweet smoothies, bread, jams, soups and sauces. They will still taste good!

What the world can do to reduce food wastage 

Thankfully, many NGOs and non-profit organisations engaged in humanitarian work are working to achieve zero hunger through zero food wastage, which is in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Apart from that, simple concepts like avoiding overeating can reduce food wastage. There has to be a call for action for reducing food wastage and philanthropic organisations can use their resources in the right direction through awareness campaigns, making the best use of social media to achieve the goal of zero hunger.