Food waste is a major contributor to the growing global issue of food insecurity. It is estimated that around the world, one-third of food produced is wasted, equating to 1.3 billion tonnes of food or $1 trillion worth. As space to grow crops becomes more and more limited, getting the most out of the produce that is grown is vital to ensure the world’s growing population has access to sufficient nutrition.
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Additionally, food waste contributes to global carbon emissions, contributing to climate change and hindering the world’s efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Here, we discuss in detail how food waste contributes to food insecurity and climate change as well as highlight the current innovations that are aiming to tackle food waste.
Food waste and food insecurity
Recent data reveal that around 2.37 people in 2020 went without access to sufficient nutrition, which translates to roughly one in nine people around the world going hungry every day. It is expected that the coronavirus pandemic will have the impact of exacerbating this problem for years to come with heightened rates of unemployment and continued disruptions to supply chains as well as reduced donations to charities that provide emergency aid.
The pandemic is not the only factor that is expected to worsen the food insecurity problem. The global population continues to grow at an exponential rate, diets are changing leading to an increased demand for protein, and rapid urbanization has resulted in greater competition for agricultural land.
Food waste adds to these problems, it reduces the amount of food available to feed those in need. It is estimated that around a third of the food produced around the world ends up being wasted. Preventing food waste could provide a simple solution to sourcing food for the world’s growing population. It is estimated that by 2050, global food production will need to be twice what it currently is to account for the growing population. Eliminating food waste would significantly reduce the amount of extra food required to be produced to feed everyone.
The following statistics help to put the current level of food waste into perspective and to demonstrate how addressing this issue could help reduce insecurity: the current population who do not have enough food could be sufficiently fed on just one-quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK, and Europe alone.
Food waste and carbon emissions
As well as adding to the food insecurity problem, food waste also plays a key role in climate change. Statistics show that if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest contributor of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.
To grow all the food that is wasted, it would require an area of land greater than China. If food were not wasted, then the agricultural efforts, which have significant levels of emissions associated with them, would not need to occur at such high levels. Emissions would reduce and more land would be available.
In fact, reducing food waste has been highlighted as the top solution to the climate crisis, according to Project DrawDown, placing it higher than initiatives such as the development of electric vehicle use, the adoption of solar power, and the switch to plant-based diets.
Much energy is afforded to agricultural efforts, such as the burning of fuel used by agricultural machinery vital to growing crops and, similarly, the fuel used to transport produce (often internationally). If food waste was cut, then so would the emissions associated with agriculture. Additionally, a quarter of the world’s freshwater supply is used to grow produce that eventually is thrown out.
Excessive use of water in drought-prone areas can reduce levels of groundwater and further exacerbate the disruption to the water cycle that is caused by climate change.
Initiatives to tackle food waste
Recently, numerous innovative solutions to tackling food waste have emerged from research projects around the world. Sensors have made an impact in this field, with the development of numerous types of sensors, including air pollution sensors, moisture sensors, and rain sensors, which help farmers grow healthier, better quality crops.
As a result, less food is wasted due to poor or failed crop yields. Scientists are also working on methods of cultivating disease-resistant crops that also aim to enhance crop yields and reduce waste at the farm before the produce reaches the supermarket.
Further to this, many companies have emerged that aim to reduce the disposal of “ugly” fruit and veg. Large retailers often refuse perfectly edible fruit and veg due to their physical appearance. To combat this, numerous companies have been established to sell produce that would otherwise be thrown out. Oddbox is one such company that connects farmers directly to consumers to sell their “ugly” produce.
Recently, edible sensors have been developed that help to maintain optimal conditions for fruit and veg in transit. The sensors are applied to the produce like a sticker and leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) to automatically adjust conditions to reduce food spoilage. Similarly, new technology in fruit and veg packaging has been developed to reduce food spoilage by preventing microbial growth and extending the shelf life of produce.
Food Waste causes Climate Change. Here's how we stop it.
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