Climate Change, Consumerism

Food for thought on fighting climate change

1/3rd of all food produced is thrown away.

I recently listened to Deliciously Ella’s podcast on climate change and food waste. Through a fact based discussion with Tessa Clarke from the food waste app Olio, I was informed of a whole sector of human impact on the environment which I was not fully aware of. In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, this is a sector which is severely lacking. I cannot have been the only one so in the dark about this. The behaviour of consumers plays a huge role with half of all UK food waste happening in households. We can all fight the global issue of climate change from within our own homes.

Food production is the human activity with the single biggest impact on our planet

It is so easy to turn our attention to food waste from supermarkets. However, in developed countries less than 2% food waste takes place at the retail store level. Many stores have been taking action to reduce their food waste for many years. Sainsbury’s has been working with the start up FareShare for almost 18 years now. Unsold food is distributed via FareShare to organisations and charities who feed those who need it. We need more of these sustainable solutions.
Individual food waste adds up. 27 million slices of bread are thrown away every day in the UK in our 27 million households . Each household throwing away one seemingly measly slice per day contributes significantly to the bigger picture.

The impact…

Climate Change
If food waste was a country it would be 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. (FAO)

I have been reeling off this fact to anyone who will listen; it has stuck in my mind. The significance of this issue is tremendous. The food industry relies heavily on fossil fuel for every aspect along the supply chain (production, transport, packaging etc). Energy used to produce the 1/3rd of food never eaten has effectively been wasted and avoidable greenhouse gases have been emitted into the atmosphere.
This food waste ending up in landfill, mainly respires anaerobically (without the presence of oxygen). This produces methane, a gas which is 23x more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Although landfill sites have waste gas extractors, they are never incredibly efficient and small volumes of methane escaping into the atmosphere will cause much more significant issues than carbon dioxide.
Food waste bins, although not offered by every council, are a slightly better option. They do require energy for transport to sites where the waste anaerobically decomposes, producing potent methane gas. Yet as it decomposes the waste is converted into biogas and can be used for electricity. Recycling one lorry load of food waste can generate enough electricity to power 20,000 TVs for an hour. Food waste bins are a step in the right direction, however change needs happen at a much greater level further up the supply chain.
Climate change is not the only environmental impact from food waste…

An area the size of China is grown of food each year which is not used. Food waste uses 28% worlds agricultural area.
25% worlds freshwater supply is used to grow good which is not eaten.
(Hall et al. 2009). Agriculture uses 70% of the global freshwater withdrawal. (FAO)
Our food system is currently responsible for approximately 60% of global terrestrial biodiversity loss .

Considering a third of all food produced is thrown away, we are unnecessarily pressurising the Earth. Valuable resources are extracted unnecessarily causing deforestation, habitat loss and potential extinction.

Earth Over Shoot Day is the day we have consumed more resources than the earth can replenish that year. In 2018 earth overshoot day was the 1st August. Every single thing each of the 7 billion people on our planet consumed after this day was depleting the planet of resources.

Globally we have enough food. There are 16 billion people in the world who are hungry, yet they could be fed with a quarter of the food waste produced in the US, UK and Europe alone. This is a problem in need of a sustainable solutions.

What can we do…

  • Food waste bins/composts are better than landfill
  • Plan meals and use leftovers (So much recipe inspo online)
  • Store food correctly, freeze – Google!
  • There is actually very little science behind expiration dates…
  • Buy fruit and veg which doesn’t look perfect, chances are others won’t (Oddbox is a great initiative)
  • Clear out and organise food cupboards, put things to use first at the front
  • There are some great start ups emerging out there including Olio, Too Good To Go, Winnow and Toast Ale who can collect stale bread from your office and turn it into beer!

The future…

2.2 billion people are expected to join this planet by 2050. To feed this total population of 10 billion people we would have to increase global food production by 50%. This is not sustainable, nor do we have the resources available to do this. The planet cannot take it. In the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015), the goal for world food waste was to cut it by 1/2 by 2030. In September 2018 we were set to increase global food waste by 1/3rd by 2030. This is a problem of two halves. Climate change will affect our agricultural food production. Changing weather patterns will alter the use of land. Rising atmospheric temperatures may lengthen growing seasons. Yet heavier rain, increased flooding and increased water scarcity in summer will all contribute to a net negative impact on agricultural production.

However, to end on a positive note. The UK is saving 5.0 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year compared to 2007 figures (from cutting down on food waste). That’s the equivalent of taking 2.2 million cars off the road! We are on the road in the right direction but need to be travelling at greater speed!

This video from American comedian John Oliver outlines the food waste issue with humour in a much more engaging fashion! Proof that the arts can be used to raise awareness and engage the public much more than stats and posts like mine!

3 thoughts on “Food for thought on fighting climate change”

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