by Joseph M. Mercola
May 31, 2014
That old bunch of carrots or pot of soup that sat for too long in
your fridge, then ended up in your trash, doesn't seem like much.
But when multiplied over an entire year
and expanded globally, the problem of food waste becomes one of epic
A report about food waste has Britain's largest supermarkets on the
defense. The report suggests that up to half of the world's
food is thrown away, and many supermarkets play a
significant role with poor storage, strict sell-by dates, and bulk
The report entitled "Global
Food: Waste Not, Want Not," 1 published
in 2013 by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME),
found that more than two billion tons of food is wasted annually.
The study claims that up to 30 percent of perfectly good vegetables
are not harvested simply because they aren't pretty. Thirty to 50
percent of the four billion tons of food produced around the world
each year never reaches a human mouth.
In spite of the fact that there is enough food grown in the world to
feed every man, woman, and child, 2.3 million children still die of
hunger every year. Cutting waste is vital if the world is to meet
its food demand as the population grows.2
Dr. Tim Fox, head of energy and
environment at the IME, said:3
"The amount of food wasted and lost
around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used
to feed the world's growing population - as well as those in
The reasons for this situation range from poor engineering and
agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage
infrastructure through to supermarkets demanding cosmetically
perfect foodstuffs and encouraging consumers to overbuy
through buy-one-get-one-free offers."
Tristram Stuart of Feeding the
5000, a campaign to empower and inspire positive solutions to
global food waste, said:
"In my experience, it's normal
practice for farmers to assume that 20 to 40 percent of their
fruit and vegetable crops won't get to market, even if they are
perfectly fit for human consumption."
- Too Much Food Going Down the Drain
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided an
illustration of the staggering amount of food wasted each year,
putting it in terms of calories:
141 trillion calories end up
in a waste dump each year in the US, which amounts to 1,249
calories per person, per day.4
If you tally up the total food lost -
that which is harvested but never eaten due to spoilage or
contamination from mold or pests - the figure for year 2010 is 133
billion pounds of food, or 31 percent of the total food supply.5
And the costs are not just to your
pocketbook - many are hidden or at least less obvious.
When the resources to produce food are
considered, the true cost of this waste amounts to:
25 percent of all fresh water
Four percent of the oil we
$165 billion (more than $40
billion from households)
$750 million per year just to
dispose of discarded food
33 million tons of landfill
In the US, organic waste is the second highest component of
Organic landfill waste has increased by
50 percent per capita since 1974, as illustrated in this
infographic.6 Landfill waste is also the largest source of methane
emissions, which are 23 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than
According to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP),
in developing nations, food waste, and losses occur mainly at early
stages of the food chain and can be traced back to,
"financial, managerial, and
technical constraints in harvesting techniques, as well as
storage and cooling facilities."
Therefore, changes are needed in the
very infrastructure of the entire global food system, beginning with
how food is farmed, packaged, and distributed.
In medium- and high-income countries, food is wasted and lost mainly
at later stages in the supply chain, so the behavior of consumers
plays a much more significant role than in the developing world,
where people cannot afford to waste their food.
UNEP stresses the importance of raising
awareness of the food waste problem among industries, retailers, and
consumers, as well as, finding new and innovative uses for food that
is presently being carelessly discarded.
Cheap food does not motivate consumers to place high value on what
they've purchased. Americans have a cheaper food supply than most
other countries. The average American also wastes 10 times more
food than the average consumer in Southeast Asia.
Michael Pollan, author of The
Omnivore's Dilemma and a number of other bestsellers, said it
"Cheap food is an illusion. There is
no such thing as cheap food.
The real cost of the food is paid
somewhere. And if it isn't paid at the cash register, it's
charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of
subsidies. And it's charged to your health."
One Dozen Ways
to Eliminate Your Food Waste
The average consumer wastes 61 percent of the food he or she
purchases. You can drastically reduce this with the tools and
strategies suggested below.
Please also refer to our previous
article about proper food storage and
how to keep your food items fresher.
Plan meals, use shopping lists,
and avoid impulse buys and "buy one, get one free" deals,
unless you're certain you'll eat it.
Locally produced foods are
fresher and keep longer, as well as having a smaller
Buy Funny-Looking Fruits and
Buying the "ugly ducklings" of
the produce section makes use of food that might otherwise
go to waste.
Learn When Food Goes Bad
Use-by and best-by dates are
only manufacturer suggestions and may cause you to discard
food when it is still safe and consumable. Many foods are
safe and consumable well after their use-by date.
Use Your Freezer
Freeze fresh produce and
leftovers if you won't have a chance to eat them before they
One of my all-time favorite
tricks, which works for most produce, is to create a "vacuum
pack" to help protect food from oxygen and airborne microbes
that will accelerate its decay. Leave the produce in the bag
it came in from the grocery store, place it against your
chest, and use your arm to squeeze the excess air out of the
bag. Then seal it with a twist tie. Or use an automatic
vacuum sealer like the FoodSaver.
Juicing is an excellent way to
use up aging produce while improving your health at the same
time. Vegetable juicing also helps with weight management
and is a great adjunct to home gardening. You can also
compost the pulp.
Request Smaller Portions
Restaurants will often provide
half-portions upon request at reduced prices.
Only about half of Americans
take leftovers home from restaurants and actually eat them.
Avoid this kind of waste.
Compost Food Scraps
Composting food scraps recycles
their nutrients and can reduce their ecological impact. It
benefits soil, plants, and the greater environment.
Composting is not as difficult as you might think. Read all
Grow Your Own Food
Start your own vegetable garden!
With the square foot gardening technique, even apartment
dwellers can learn a simple technique for growing veggies on
a small patio.8
Donate excess food and garden
produce to food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, shelters -
and your friends and neighbors.
How to Be Part
of the Solution
Food waste has become an enormous problem worldwide, as the latest
You can do a number of things to reduce
your own food waste, but the rest of the problem must be dealt with
system-wide, with an overhaul of our inefficient, unhealthy and
extremely wasteful food system.
Startups such as Food Cowboy, CropMobster, and
Feeding the 5000 are finding clever ways to reduce food waste,
such as diverting edible food from dumpsters to food banks, and
otherwise rerouting extra food to those in need. 9,10
I would encourage you to support
organizations such as these, which serve to raise awareness about a
monumental problem that will only become worse under the strain of
our rapidly expanding world population.