The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that the world wasted 280 million tons of food in 2011, and 80% of the amount was attributed to developed countries. Now the figure is 1.3 billion tons. Here in the UK, 10 million metric tonnes of food goes to waste once it passes the farm gate, and 71% of that amount finds households at fault.
The problem has moral implications. In 2014, research from the UN put the number of people in this country struggling to get enough food at over eight million. And according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a charity established by the UK government in 2000, the impact of wasted food on CO2 emissions amounts to 25 per cent of what comes from our cars.
Despite serious concern and active efforts on the part of certain authorities, little progress has been made. In fact, WRAP points to a 4.4 per cent increase in household food waste from 2012 to 2015 – a stark contrast to the government’s objective of a 5 per cent reduction. The charity says progress is being impeded by population increases and improved economic conditions.
How companies are tackling the issue
Sainsbury’s is experimenting with temperature-sensitive labels that start yellow and become increasingly purple the longer the pack has been open. The thinking is that such smart packaging reminds us to consume, say, ham slices before they expire and take up more landfill space.
By asking its cafeteria workers to measure daily food disposals and propose solutions, Ikea managed to avoid 79,000 tonnes of waste. The homewares giant aims to halve its food waste by 2020, and the fact that it has already saved around 1 million dollars is making a solid economic case for such efforts.
Researchers from Cornell University are taking things a step further by capturing energy from unused groceries. In a process akin to pressure cooking, scraps are turned into a liquid that is ripe for conversion to biofuel; barely anything is left over. Dr Roy Posmanik tells Time that ‘treating waste as a resource is an important piece of the sustainable future.’
How to make a difference
Avoiding food waste is not only sensible from the perspective of our CO2 footprint and making a positive contribution to sustainability, it affords households a means to save real money every month. Should you be keen to do your bit by reducing food waste, try WRAP’s Love Food, Hate Waste website for tips on using what you’ve already got. The path to turning things around could start with making a sandwich.