Our Household Food Waste Undermines Sustainable Development

According to a recent report by the United Nations (UN), the world is currently in a food waste epidemic. This is difficult to imagine when 690 million people went undernourished in 2019. For that same year, 931 million tons of food was discarded by households, retail and restaurants across the globe. In other words, 17% of all food bought was discarded.

Interestingly, the investigation found that high- and middle-income countries had similar food waste patterns. This shared problem means that there is a serious need for national food waste prevention strategies across the globe.

Come the new year, we’ve only got 7 years left to achieve the UN-founded Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These goals serve as a blueprint to achieve a “more sustainable future for all people and the world by 2030.” SDG 12 covers Responsible Consumption and Production. Here, target 12.3 specifically addresses Food Loss and Waste.

Food Loss, Food Waste and Climate Change

Food loss occurs at every stage of the supply chain from harvesting up until it enters the consumer arena. Food waste, however, refers to food that is discarded at the consumer level, i.e. in households, retail and restaurants.

So how does this affect climate change?

Uneaten food negatively contributes to climate change. Approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from food waste alone. What makes food waste so harmful is that it generates all the same environmental impacts of food production without the benefit of nourishing people. This means that discarded food is not only a waste of energy but also a waste of resources.

The environmental impacts associated with food waste include intensive use of land and water, pollution of land and water, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, agrochemicals used to enhance food production can contaminate groundwater making it unsafe to drink, or can run into water bodies encouraging excessive algae production which can suffocate aquatic life.

Changing Habits At Home

The alarming news is that 11% of global food waste comes exclusively from households. As bad as this sounds, there is a silver lining: we have the power to change this. By changing how we make decisions about food and adjusting our buying habits, we can make a difference. When we reduce our food waste, we are also reducing our personal climate impact.

Here are some simple suggestions to get you started.

  • Buy only what you need: Make a point of checking your refrigerator and pantry before doing a grocery run. Making a list will help you to keep track of your purchases and prevent impulse buying.
  • Buy only when you need it: Top-up when you’re close to running out. Buying food regularly will limit your chances of bulk buying.
  • Use what you buy: Get creative with left-overs by using them in sandwiches, curries, frittatas or pasta. Add wilting vegetables to whatever you cook. Use your freezer to keep uneaten food for longer.
  • Plan your meals: Having weekly meal plans greatly reduces food waste. Choose to cook meals that use similar ingredients. Use recipes to get accurate serving sizes, or adjust your cooking quantities to reduce the chances of leftovers.

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