Household Food Waste... An environmental issue each one of us can help solve.

Posted by Tandarin Nike Thursday, November 19, 2009 10:26 PM

Most people have been brought up not to waste food - I guess few of us haven't heard the "eat up, there are children starving in X who would love that food" or "if you don't eat your vegetables, you can't have dessert".

Even with these good intentioned exhortations and threats, food waste continues to be a massive problem. Between agricultural, commercial production and domestic consumption, a criminal amount of food waste occurs. According to a report from the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) global losses and wastage may be in the order of 50 percent between field and fork.

In their report, SIWI states that as much as 30 percent of food, worth some US$48.3 billion, is discarded in the USA alone. A similar percentage is wasted in the UK. An estimated 6.7 million tonnes of household food waste is produced each year in the UK, most of which could have been eaten.

This wastes good food, costs us all money and adversely impacts on the environment. The amount of food we throw away is a major contributor to the production of greenhouse gases all over the globe.

But it's not just food we're wasting - it's water. Based on the USA's losses, again according to SIWI, it's the equivalent of wasting 40 trillion liters of water, which is enough water for half a billion people. The energy that goes into creating the food we waste also contributes significantly to carbon dioxide emissions.

To help reduce the amount of food that is thrown away, WRAP and its partners are running a 'Love Food Hate Waste' consumer facing campaign to encourage behavioral change. They work with the UK grocery sector, food industry, Government and organizations such as the Food Standards Agency to develop practical solutions and improved communications to make it easier for consumers to get the most from the food they buy and waste less of it.

WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) UK, works with local authorities, business and households to prevent waste, increase recycling and develop markets for recycled and sustainable products. WRAP's aim is to reduce consumer food waste by 250,000 tonnes by March 2011. Research has shown good intentions are often hampered by a range of factors including:

• a lack of planning when food shopping - buying more than is needed;
• poor food storage knowledge;
• a lack of confidence around cooking (especially making meals from the food available in the house, and portion control), and
• Confusion over food date labels (such as the difference between 'use by' and 'best before')

I constantly gross out my family as to what I'll eat. I have no problem with swalling stuff that's past the best before date and so far I've never had a single case of food poisoning.

"Best before" simply means that - the food (according to the manufacturer) tastes best before that date. You do need to exercise a bit of caution of course - smell, sight, taste; but eating something that's a few days past its best by date is highly unlikely to kill you if it's been stored properly. I often wonder if the "best before" date is a ruse from the food industry to have us chucking out more and then buying more.

The "use by" date on the other hand is one you should probably observe more closely. Again, it's not unusual for me to eat items past this date, but I certainly don't do so with milk, meat or dairy products - just too risky.

There are a number of different approaches to reducing food waste - packaging and technology play an important role. Improving or adapting packaging and applying technologies such as:

• increasing the shelf life of products;
• using oxygen scavengers;
• modified atmospheres;
• interactive films, and
• resealable packaging

These are all helpful in maintaining food quality for longer, both in store and at home. The environmental costs of food waste are enormous. It is estimated that 20% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food production, distribution and storage. If we stopped wasting food that could have been eaten we could prevent at least 15 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year.

The majority of these emissions are associated with embedded energy but a significant proportion arises as a result of food waste going to landfill sites. Once in landfill food breakdown produces methane - a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Love Food Hate Waste; This consumer facing campaign aims to raise awareness of the need to reduce the amount of food that we throw away, and how doing this will benefit us all and the environment. The campaign highlights that there are a few quick and easy things that consumers can do to reduce the amount of food thrown away and the website contains:

• useful tips and tools;
• fabulous recipes; and
• Comments from celebrities and food writers.

Along with individuals and retailers, organizations are being encouraged to 'add their voice' to the campaign and partners can find brand guidelines, advertising and promotional materials at the Love Food Hate Waste Partners.

Improper storage too generates massive amounts of food waste. Leaving packets open, refrigerating stuff that doesn't require it and vice versa rapidly speeds up food spoilage. Ensure you have the right tools for the job such as airtight containers etc. It's worth spending a bit of money on proper storage containers as cheap ones simply won't laste the distance, adding more waste to food related issues in your home.

Some food waste is inevitable though (e.g. vegetable peelings) and WRAP is working with consumers, local authorities and others to minimize the amount of food waste that reaches landfill. Home Composting is a fantastic way of recycling food waste such as fruit scraps, vegetable peelings and tea-bags, while making your garden more beautiful. Please don't send these to landfill, compost them or get a worm farm - worms love most kitchen scraps!

Let each one of us do our bit wherever we are in reducing environmental damage. Reducing food waste will definitely help. Aside from the moral, ethical and environmental issues, reducing food & water waste can save you a ton of money each year! In countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK, food waste reduction can put a thousand dollars or more back into your pocket every 12 months!

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