Food Waste: A Pressing Concern
When you think about conserving energy you usually just think to turn off your lights or drive your car less, don’t you? Well, there are a lot more waste factors that have been contributing huge amounts to the increase of global climate change. One of those things is wasted food. It’s not just the food itself, either: by wasting the food you are wasting the energy that went into making it. Consider that 30% of the world’s available energy goes into making food, and a lot of it is lost or wasted. This has become a problem due to the increasing demand for food products worldwide which is increasing the amount of food being splurged (using too much too quickly).
Out of all the food produced in a year, ⅓ of it is either thrown away, lost, or doesn’t even get transported to a store. According to WWF this is approximately 1.3 billion tons of food–and that’s per year. This is enough to feed millions of people deprived of proper amounts of food. Of course, that is not the only problem with food waste. The food left rotting away in landfills produces massive amounts of methane, or greenhouse gas emissions. These toxic gasses (along with others) are dangerous to the health of the planet, especially if they keep increasing. These chemicals are harmful to not only the environment but the atmosphere as well. When they damage the atmosphere it allows the invisible energy that comes from the sun––ultraviolet light, or UV rays––to heat up the planet, (basically the invisible energy that comes from the sun to keep us warm comes down from the sun and heats up the planet.)
The Food Production System
The process people go through to make meat produces the biggest greenhouse gas emissions. In order to raise the animals that are to be used for meat it is necessary to clear away large patches of land by cutting down forests of trees. This increases the carbon dioxide levels in that area. Furthermore, the cattle and other animals they raise leave behind large amounts of methane and nitrous oxide (other forms of greenhouse gasses) that is produced from their waste and bowel functions!
illustration by Callisto
The same problems arise in the production of dairy products and certain oils which are in very high demand. On a side note, big industries like this don’t usually treat their animals well, and they live in confined living conditions until they are ready to be slaughtered for their meat.
It is not just animal products that use up a large energy footprint, but vegetables and fruit as well, however not as large. The space needed to grow large crops also requires lots of space which results in more forest clearing and increases carbon dioxide. In addition to that, the fertilizers and chemicals sprayed on the crops are high in nitrous oxide, which is harmful to not only the environment, but to the food as well. (Who wants to eat chemical food? Bleh!)
Graph of Greenhouse Emissions Produced From Food
Image Credit: United Nations: Climate action
Why This Waste is Not a Sustainable or Renewable Resource
While it’s true that burning waste is a form of fuel and is also a way to get rid of the waste, it is not sustainable. This is because it produces a toxic gas which is hazardous to the health of nearby ecosystems. Not only that, but the CO2 emissions coming from wasted food are so large they are contributing to the overall effect of global warming, and if they keep increasing at their current rate (which would be up to 30% more due to predicted demand) then the earth’s temperatures could go up by 1.5% Fahrenheit in the years between 2030 and 2050.
From a business perspective, the amount of money that goes into food production as well is also unsustainable. The money is wasted along with the food and the energy, which is just as destructive to the economy (the amount of money our country has) as it is to the environment.
Ways You Can Help Food Waste and Food Waste Energy
- Eat a Healthy and Sustainable Diet: Since animal products use the most energy, to help reduce your energy footprint you can eat a more plant, fruit and nut based diet. Still eating meat is fine, just in a way that is sustainable. You could even try eating more plant proteins rather than the meat itself to get the nutrition you need.
- Attempt to Cut Down Your Food Waste: Instead of throwing out food at the first sign of spoiling you can find ways of reusing it. You can use softer fruit in things like smoothies and jams and you can use old leaves (vegetables) in things like soup stocks.
- Be Conservative With the Food You Have: Try to use what you have at home before you go and get more food from the store. Conserve your food and eat your leftovers first so less goes bad since you didn’t eat it in time, requiring it to be thrown away.
- Buy Local Products: Buying local food products can reduce the energy that is used in transportation and other methods used to produce out of season foods. Have you ever wondered how you could have strawberries in winter when it’s too cold to grow them? Well, it’s because those strawberries were grown and transported from a place where it’s warm enough! A lot more energy goes into out of season foods. Buying organic is also healthy because the food does not have dangerous pesticides and other chemicals sprayed on it. The process of organic farming also leaves a smaller carbon footprint because there are no unnatural fertilizers full of nitrous oxide.
- Grow Your Own Food: Like buying local food, growing your own will also reduce your energy usage because you are not relying on the big industries that use all that energy.
- If You Can, Donate to Charities Who Need Food: Part of the problem with wasting food is that the food that is wasted could have been used to feed those in need. So if we can find ways to use the large amounts of food we have and feed even more people, it can help reduce the food waste.
Wasted Energy in General
Of course, it isn’t just food waste that is hurting the planet, there are many other resources that are wasted, such as oil, electricity, and waste. If we can be conservative in the use of all things, then energy can be reduced. But these types of goals only work if enough people are involved and want to make a difference. There is no Planet B for us to run off to after we have wasted all our planet’s resources, and it is not a sustainable way to live in general. If we are always relying on the big industries that use unsustainable methods to create their products then the problems at hand won’t get any better. If things are to change, the consumers (the people who use products – like us!) and the producers (the people who make them) have to be involved.
“Fight Climate Change by Reducing Food Waste.” worldwildlife.org. WWF. Accessed
Dec 20, 2022. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/fight-climate-change-by-preventing-food-waste#:~:text=But%20wasted%20food%20isn't,more%20potent%20than%20carbon%20dioxide.
“Food and Climate Change: Healthy Diets for a Healthier Planet.” un.org. United
Nations: Climate Action. Accessed Dec 20, 2022. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/climate-issues/food?gclid=CjwKCAiAy_CcBhBeEiwAcoMRHK90Sd285rxuFqmyj0RqNt_GA0qQY04NiLPllsxF6LYFu83sVabeURoCNugQAvD_BwE
Muznik, Sara. “9 reasons why we better move away from waste-to-energy, and embrace zero waste instead.” zerowasteeurope.eu. Zero Waste Europe. Published
Feb 27, 2018. Accessed Dec 20, 2022. https://zerowasteeurope.eu/2018/02/9-reasons-why-we-better-move-away-from-waste-to-energy-and-embrace-zero-waste-instead/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CWaste%2Dto%2Denergy%E2%80%9D%20is%20often%20described%20as%20a,without%20delivering%20what%20it%20promised.
“The Energy Loss.” toogoodtoogo.com. Save Food: Help the Planet. Accessed Dec
20, 2022. https://toogoodtogo.com/en-us/movement/knowledge/the-energy-loss
Tigress is a regular contributor to One Girl One Planet.