Causes Of Food Waste | 6 mins read

The Underlying Causes of Food Waste

the underlying causes of food waste
Dakota Sheetz

By Dakota Sheetz

Food waste is a global economic, social, and environmental crisis. Everyone must acknowledge how they can mitigate the causes of food waste.

Introduction

Although globally 820 million people suffer from hunger, 1/3rd of produced food is lost or wasted, necessitating intervention towards mitigating the causes of food waste.

A Global Issue

Global food waste comes at a high monetary cost, but an even higher social cost. The economic cost of global food waste is $1 trillion, the environmental cost is around $700 billion, and the social cost is around $900 billion. Food loss and waste drive up prices and reduce food accessibility to people around the globe. While food is massively lost or wasted, many people around the globe are unnecessarily suffering and dying. 820 million people go hungry every day and a further 1 in 9 people do not have enough food to live their lives healthily. More people die from hunger every day than from malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis combined.

There are exorbitant environmental impacts of food waste, ranging from negative impacts on climate change to the squandering of our most precious natural resources. Agriculture claims 70% of the water used around the world, with roughly 1/3rd of the world’s agricultural land used to grow food that is ultimately wasted. The blue water footprint is estimated to be equivalent to 3.6 times the water consumed by the entire US. The land footprint is larger than the surface of Canada.

The carbon footprint of food waste results in 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year. Greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation and heat up the earth’s atmosphere resulting in global warming and climate change. Landfills produce a large amount of methane, many times more powerful than carbon dioxide. In comparison, when considering total emissions by country, only the US and China are responsible for more emissions.

While globally 6 billion tons of agriculture is produced for food and non-food uses, food wastage is estimated to be between 1.3-1.6 billion tons. Food waste impacts biodiversity at a global level, with more species becoming extinct every year. Agricultural production is responsible for 66% of threats to terrestrial species and in marine biodiversity, fish are being caught at a rate greater than their ability to repopulate.

The Root of the Issue

the root of the issue 2976

Globally, the main causes of food waste include-

  • Lack of appropriate planning- Food is purchased without appropriate plans on when and how it will be prepared for consumption. Americans would collectively save around $5.6 billion annually by not purchasing food they will never eat
  • Over purchasing and overpreparation- Food is wasted by purchasing or preparing more than needed. Restaurants in the United States generate anywhere from 22 to 33 billion pounds of perfectly edible food waste per year, with a single restaurant wasting approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food. Typically, 85% of unused American restaurant food is thrown away, with only a small percent recycled or donated to those in need. 43% of food in American homes is thrown away
  • Noncompliance with food safety policies- The protocol on food safety is so rigid that all food items that don’t meet standards are largely disposed of. Food will even be rejected because of an imperfection in appearance or shape. Overcooked foods, packaging defects, and non-aesthetically pleasing products may be wasted, even though they are perfectly edible
  • Lack of appropriate infrastructure, natural calamities, poor practices, and insufficient skills- Mainly a challenge contributing to food wastage in developing countries, these various constraints include lack of proper management, insufficient finances, and technical difficulties in harvesting methods. Additionally, developing countries face storage, cooling, processing, packaging, infrastructure, and marketing systems problems during adverse weather conditions
While developing countries are more likely to lose food at the production level due to infrastructure and harvesting techniques, middle and higher-income regions show more waste at the consumer level due to poor business practices and food social norms. 54% percent of global food wastage occurs "upstream" (food production, post-harvest handling, storage) and 46% of it happens "downstream” (processing, distribution, consumption). The further down the food chain that food loss or waste occurs, the greater the environmental impact.

Agricultural production is responsible for the greatest amount of waste by volume, accounting for 33% of the total food waste. Diets rich in animal products contribute to food wastage because animal products generally create a larger water footprint per ton of product than crops. It is more efficient to obtain fats, calories, and proteins through crop products rather than animal products.

Our need as individuals, nations, and as a global community to mitigate the causes of food waste is a pressing issue and social responsibility that can no longer be ignored. Establishing food preservation practices and mindful consumerism across the food supply chain will benefit not only the social wellbeing of the food industry businesses but also the larger community that they serve. The butterfly effect of decreasing food waste has the potential to positively change the entire world.

Conclusion

  • Although globally 820 million people suffer from hunger, 1/3rd of produced food is lost or wasted, necessitating intervention towards mitigating the causes of food waste.
  • The economic cost of global food waste is $1 trillion, the environmental cost is around $700 billion, and the social cost is around $900 billion
  • Globally, 1 in 9 people do not have enough food to live their lives healthily, with more people die from hunger every day than from malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis combined
  • While 54% percent of global food wastage occurs "upstream" (food production, post-harvest handling, storage), about 46% of it happens "downstream” (processing, distribution, consumption). The further down the food chain that food loss or waste occurs, the greater the environmental impact.
  • Restaurants in the United States generate anywhere from 22 to 33 billion pounds of perfectly edible food waste per year. with a single restaurant wasting approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food. Typically, 85% of unused American restaurant food is thrown away
  • 12% of households suffer from food insecurity and 42 million food-insecure people live in the United States
  • Agriculture claims 70% of the water used around the world and roughly 1/3rd of the world’s agricultural land is used to grow food that is wasted. The blue water footprint is estimated to be equivalent to 3.6 times the water consumed of the entire US, the land footprint is larger than the surface of Canada
  • The carbon footprint of food waste results in 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year
  • Establishing food preservation practices and mindful consumerism across the food supply chain will benefit not only the social wellbeing of the food industry businesses but also the larger community that they serve