A recent study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the 1.3 billion tons of food discarded around the world account for more greenhouse gas emissions than those emitted by any country except for China or the US. The study takes into account the energy, water, and chemicals used both to produce the food and to dispose of it — totaling around 3.3 billion tones of carbon dioxide each year.
So why is all this food going uneaten? In industrialized nations, it tends to be due to consumers buying too much food and throwing away what they don’t eat. In developing countries, the problem isn’t that people have more food than they can eat — it’s that they lack proper food storage facilities and may practice inefficient farming techniques.
With the world population continuing to increase year after year, cutting back on food waste would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it could help prevent potential food shortages in the coming decades. The FOA’s suggestions for reducing food waste worldwide start with producers in developing nations, which could use more investment in harvesting, cooling, and packaging methods that reduce spoilage. From there, improvements to the supply chain could allow food to reach consumers more efficiently.
The proposed solutions for industrialized nations are simpler but just as wide in scope: consumers should be encouraged to eat smaller portion sizes and make better use of leftovers, while businesses could donate surplus food to charities. Finding alternatives to dumping food waste in landfills could also cut down on greenhouse emissions.
Lead image © jbloom