The UK throws away an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food away every year. Most of the food could have been eaten. Not only does throwing away food waste precious resources, food waste equates to annual cost of £10.2 billion and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Are we taking our food for granted?
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the average UK household throws away 18% of all food purchased with families with children throwing away 27%. It is mostly food that could have been consumed if it had been better stored or managed, or had not been left uneaten on a plate. Much of the food waste goes into landfill with an estimated £1 billion worth of food wasted in the UK still “in date” while nearly a quarter was disposed of because the “use by” or “best before” date had expired. Salad, fruit and bread are most commonly wasted food while 60% of all dumped food remains untouched.
We are not only paying for food we do not eat, we are having to deal with the cost that the waste creates as well as the cost to the climate with regard to the energy used in growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin.
While we throw away food in the UK people in other parts of the world are struggling to cope with an increase in food prices. In 2008 there was a surge in food prices which resulted in millions of people being plunged into hunger causing rioting in countries such as Bangladesh, Cameroon, Egypt and Haiti. The increase in selected commodity prices for wheat, corn, and soya resulted in 110 million people being driven into poverty and added 44 million more to the undernourished. Although prices have fallen sharply since the peak in July 2008, they are still high above those in 2004 for many key commodities.
A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the The Environmental Food Crisis states that up to 25 per cent of the world’s food production may become lost due to environmental breakdowns by 2050 unless action is taken.
Cereal yields have already stagnated worldwide and fish landings are declining. Drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks all contribute to the current food crisis. These may worsen the situation substantially in the coming decades. The amount of fish currently discarded at sea – estimated at 30 million tonnes annually – could sustain more than a 50 per cent increase in fish farming and aquaculture.
Climate change emerges is a key factor that may undermine the chances of feeding over nine billion people by 2050. Increasing water scarcities and a rise and spread of invasive pests such as insects, diseases and weeds may substantially depress yields in the future.
Over half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. Rather than focusing solely on increasing production, food security can be increased by enhancing supply through optimising food energy efficiency. The world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet.
Tackling the global crisis starts at home. We all need to do our bit by ensuring we do not waste this precious resource we have taken for granted for so long.
© Gary Haq 2009