As food is essential to life, so tackling food waste is integral to the zero waste approach.
It is tempting to think that compost is the universal solution to the problem, but data shows the shocking amount of healthy edible food that comprises food waste. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ just-published survey on the food waste of industrial countries reveals that between 30 and 50 percent of food isn’t eaten! Globally we produce about 4 billion tons of food every year, too much of which will land in the garbage. The frustration should be self-evident to any compassionate thinker: we could feed the growing world population including those hungry today if we properly divert this edible overabundance.
The reasons for this massive food waste are the wrong agriculture methods and poor storage & transport opportunities. Many food suppliers only accept cosmetically perfect food while pushing excessive consumption with “two for one” offers. In Europe and the USA the consumers throw away about half of their food, resulting in needless wasting of land, water and energy resources used during its production, processing and distribution. The Institute says 550 billion cubic meters of water are wasted worldwide every year for harvesting food which will never be eaten.
Each year in the USA, Americans squander the equivalent of billion or 33 million tons by discarding so much food. Statistics show that Americans today waste 50 percent more food than they did in the 1970s. The 30 – 50 percent waste includes restaurants as well, yet private households alone jettison between 14 and 25 percent of their food, which easily adds up to to annually.
Hopeful signs: Britain managed to reduce the amount of household food by 18 percent over the past five years. Public awareness campaigns and resolutions by leading retailers to eliminate their downstream waste were great tools to effect this decline. Germany just committed to reduce their food waste down to 3.3 million tons per year (today it is 6.7 million tons) by 2020. The US doesn’t have a goal yet, but leading institutions have begun to challenge this huge environmental impact. California Universities have pledged to change their way of processing and selling food to prevent food waste – partly to reduce the methane emissions of landfills, a major contributor to the greenhouse effect.
Great ideas and organizations which show you how you can prevent wasting food:
Foodshift: This is an organization sponsored by Earth Island Institute and founded in 2011 as a project focused on all aspects of food waste. The goals of this great Bay Area organization are: increase awareness and inspire action, build coalitions and cross sector partnerships, utilize existing community resources and assets, create toolkits and resources for communities, expand and enhance food recovery capacity and reduce food waste related climate change. With these goals FoodShift is not just aiming to educate and empower consumers but also businesses and communities.
Crop Swap: This is a regular meeting on the first Saturday of each month between 10:30 and 11:30 am across from the North Berkeley BART Station. This event is actually not just for food, but also for books, clothes, anything extra you’d like to trade – a new local incarnation of the barter economy.
Food Banks: These are organizations where you can donate food – in person at the food bank, via an organized food drive, and at participating grocery stores. When you donate the food bank can supply worth of food. In addition to individuals, non-profits and corporations can also make in-kind or monetary donations, as well as participate in volunteer shifts. In the US, thousands of people rely on their local food bank.
Die Tafel: Similar to a Food Bank, about 50,000 volunteers support this German organization. In December 2012 there was a unique project between Slow Food and “Die Tafel”. Both organizations asked for imperfect food which companies deemed unsalable. After this collection, the two groups organized what was called a “large table”. They prepared the food and offered it free to the community, especially to people who typically lack food security.
Foodsharing: If you have food that would otherwise be wasted, you have two options with this new organization in Europe: you can either cook it and offer a great breakfast / lunch / dinner for the community or you can give your items away for free (e.g. bread, honey, etc.). So instead of wasting food, you share it. The benefits of cooking for the community are that others will share with you as well, and you create connections to new people.