Food waste phenomenon and its impact on climate change

Every day, enormous amounts of food are wasted in modern commerce, even though it is in perfect condition. Stores sell them at a reduced price, but often consumers are not sufficiently informed about these actions. Meet the food waste phenomenon, a problem of global significance, that starts during agricultural production and continues all the way to the landfill.

Global food waste has an enormous environmental impact. Food waste is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions and leads to wasted natural resources, so reducing food waste could help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, establish food security, and encourage healthy food systems. Therefore, reducing food waste is seen to be one of the truly tangible everyday steps we can all take to shrink our environmental footprints.

The new objectives for reducing food waste, presented by the European Commission[1] in July 2023, require member states to reduce waste by 30% per inhabitant, whether we are talking about HoReCa or households by 2030. Also, in food processing and production, waste should be reduced by 10%. The baseline for this reduction is that of 2020, when food waste was 131 kg per EU inhabitant. According to the statistical monitoring of the amount of food waste in the EU, carried out by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, almost 59 million tons of food waste are generated in the EU every year, representing an estimated loss of 132 billion euros. Also, according to the UN, Romania throws away 1.3 million tons of food annually.

Food loss and waste undermine the sustainability of our food systems. When food is lost or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce this food, including water, land, energy, labor, and capital go to waste. Though governments are key players in the sustainable management of food, businesses and consumers have an important role to play as well. In addition to land, food production requires water, agriculture accounting for 70% of total freshwater consumption. Last but not least, food production requires energy, mostly obtained from fossil fuels.

The impact of waste on the environment is not limited to the production and consumption process. All the waste we produce that reaches the landfill pollutes the atmosphere as it cannot decompose efficiently. Tons of bags thrown on top of each other do not allow oxygen and bacteria to work. Once discarded and improperly stored in landfills, rotting food produces methane in the absence of air.

Methane is a gas more harmful than carbon dioxide, responsible for producing  up to 10 percent of global greenhouse emissions[2]. Thus, it contributes to the creation of an unstable climate and extreme phenomena such as drought and floods. These negative effects in turn influence yields, reduce nutritional quality and cause problems in the supply chain. Therefore, prioritizing the reduction of food waste is vital to the transition to more sustainable and resource-friendly food systems.

Among the main causes of food waste are improper storage, overcooking, confusion about expiration dates, lack of freezing, but also bad weather, processing problems, overproduction, and unstable markets.

Both organizations and citizens contribute to the phenomenon of food waste every day, yet      there are methods by which it can be reduced or even eliminated. Managing this problem represents a win-win opportunity for all to access affordable and nutritious food while preserving natural resources and the health of our ecosystem.      

curated by Auchan



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