When we talk of food wastage , we have in mind the wastage of cooked food .But there is a wastage of food all along the food supply chain .There is a wastage at the stage of production , post -harvest , storage , processing , distribution and finally at consumption stage .At global level , there is a wastage of 1.3 billion tonnes of food every year. Total agricultural production for food and non-food uses is about 6 billion tonnes. FAO’ s “Food Wastage Footprint : Impact on Natural Resources “ is the first study to analyze the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective, looking specifically at its consequences for the climate , water, land use and biodiversity.
FAO study report says that 54% of the world’s food wastage occurs during production , post-harvest handling and storage, remaining 46% of wastage happens in the processing , distribution and consumption stages. Thus farmers , traders , consumers and all citizens are all stakeholders in the reduction of food wastage .The direct economic losses due to food wastage are of the order of $750 billion every year .(This is the figure of 2007 , as reported by FAO).This is equivalent to the GDP of Turkey or Switzerland .This is a low estimate since it mainly considers producer prices and not the value of end product .
But economic costs are not the only reason why we should reduce food wastage. Environmentally , food wastage is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of green house gases.As such , food wastage ranks as the third top emitter after USA and China.Food wastage contributes to the largest volume of material in landfills in the US and accounts for 21% of total waste system in that country.Methane emissions from landfills represent the largest source of GHG emissions from the entire waste sector , contributing around 700 million metric tonnes of Carbondioxide equivalent per year .
In addition , there is water footprint related to food wastage .Globally , consumption of water resources((both surface and ground ) of food wastage is about 250 Km cube , which is equivalent to 3.6 times consumption of the USA for the same period . Besides environmental costs , there is a major moral imperative related to food wastage .While 870 million people go hungry every day , we cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce , to go waste .This is criminal .
But what is happening to food wastage over time?In US , food waste has increased by about 50% since 1974 , and now accounts for nearly 40% of all food produced in the US..Across the supply chain , the loss is 1400 kilocalories per head per day.Food waste accounts for a quarter of the fresh water supply , and 300 million gallons of oil a year .In the times of water shortage and higher gas prices , that is a lot of wasted resources.One billion people could be fed for a year with the amount only the USA wastes every year.This obviously indicates the need for stepping up efforts to prevent food wastage.
How to prevent food wastage?
In developing countries , significant post-harvest losses are a key problem , occurring as a result of financial and structural limitations in harvesting techniques , storage and transport infrastructure .Climatic conditions also add to food spoilage.In India , we need to pay more attention and devise policy measures to reduce food losses at these stages .In middle and
high-income regions , food wastage at the retail and consumer level accounts for 31-39% of the total wastage while in low-income regions , it is 4-16% of the total wastage.FAO report also says that the later a food product is lost or wasted along the food chain , the greater the environmental consequences , because the environmental costs incurred during processing , storage and transport and cooking must be added to the initial production costs.
The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include target number 12.3 aims to halve food loss and waste by 2030.”Think.Eat.Save” campaign of UNEP , launched in 2014, in partnership with FAO is a public awareness raising campaign to mobilise global action against food wastage and against its adverse impact on environment , economy and society. This campaign gives assistance to businesses , local authorities and governments for designing effective food wastage prevention programmes.
One way to prevent food wastage is through reuse. Where reuse is not possible , recycling and recovery should be pursued .Dumping food in landfills is a bad idea because food thrown in landfills is a large producer of Methane , a particularly harmful Green House Gas. Instead , recycling , anaerobic digestion, composting and incineration with energy recovery have significant advantage over dumping. In order for city and local governments to efficiently and effectively recycle food waste, it is essential to take actions at the household level to separate out food waste from the rest of the waste. Recycling schemes work out only when waste is properly sorted at the source. Suitable regulations in this regard need to be framed and judiciously used.
Rather than dumping waste in landfills, the use of anaerobic digestion to break it down into digestate is preferable to both composting and landfill disposal .It gives both fertilizer and biogas .When digestion is not possible , home composting represents the next best option .At the individual level , home composting can divert up to 150 Kgm of food waste per household per year from local collection authorities. Incineration of food waste (with energy released being recovered) is the option of last resort for preventing food waste from ending up in landfills.
Food wastage prevention programme has to be implemented and monitored both at the level of businesses and households. Businesses - both those operating within the food chain as well as those operating outside the food chain (which have a large food print , like Cafeterias, for example) can conduct food waste audits to determine how they can improve their performance in controlling food wastage. Households can also conduct relatively simpler food waste audits.
Better awareness and sensitization in and among all participants in food chain is of great importance .For example , when farmers do not find a market for products , they leave them to rot in field .This needs to to be changed. Families cook larger quantity of food than actually required .They should be more precise how many persons will eat food on a particular day. Supermarkets sometimes downsize orders to producers at the last minute , leaving the producers with large quantities of unsalable products. Restaurants over stocking food by over-estimating demand .Food-retailers displaying very large quantities of food , believing it to contribute to increased sale , is a wasteful practice and needs to be discontinued .When food item starts to approach the end of its shelf life , it is discarded , resulting in wastage .In short, food-retailing has to be environmentally-minded.
In a world where we have large population of starving , poor human beings , where we are suffering from the environmental challenges of pollution , lack of cleanliness, global warming and climate change , taking all possible steps at individual household level as well as at the level of local bodies and the state and central government is the need of the hour.-(This article was published in the October 15,2016 issue of the magazine Tree Take , Lucknow , India.)