The Effects of Food Waste

Food Loss

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Food waste refers to discarding food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption. According to an estimate, around 40% of the food produced globally gets wasted. Food waste is becoming a global problem with evident problems related to waste of resources, financial loss, social and environmental issues. Let us take a closer look at the effects of food waste.

Effects of Food Waste

There is no denying that food is produced at a cost. Some of the costs involved in food production are land, water, labor, energy, and money. Approximately, 50% of the livable land is used for the production of food (Hannah, 2019) and more than 70% of the water is being used for agriculture (World Bank, 2020). In developing agro-based countries, the majority of the population is employed in the agriculture sector. Not to mention the machinery, tools, and energy that goes into food production. So, billions of dollars are needed to produce food globally in order to meet the global food demand.
When we waste food, we are in reality wasting all the resources that are required for food productions.

Breakdown of effects of food waste

Effects of Food Waste: wasted land
Food waste is negatively impacting our lives in many ways. Below are some of the major effects arising as a result of food waste.

Loss of Biodiversity

As the human population is increasing, there is an increasing demand for food and in order to produce more food, we need more land. Already, almost half of land is used in food production due to which there is not enough land to be used for food production. Due to this, we are forced to cut forests to convert that land for food production. This results in biodiversity loss as now there is less space for wildlife to live as the natural habitats of birds, fish, and mammals are decreasing as a result of deforestation. According to the findings of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), two-third of the wildlife population has decreased in the last 50 years (WWF, 2020). This shows how serious this issue is. Not only this, due to excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides, a lot of insect species have gone extinct while this contaminated water is affecting the health and lives of marine animals upon entering into streams, rivers, and oceans.

Another Effect of Food Waste: Wastage of Fertile Land Area and Water

As mentioned above, about one-third of the land is used to produce food which gets wasted. If we put it differently, we are basically wasting 33% of the fertile land as a result of food waste. This land could have been used for other purposes for example for agricultural research. Moreover, around 24% of the freshwater gets wasted as a result of food waste (Eliza, 2013), while there are millions of people in the world who do not have access to clean drinking water.

Decrease in Forest Cover

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations mentioned in the analysis of The State of the World’s Forest estimates, that the world forests have decreased from 31.6% of the global land area to 30.6% between 1990 and 2015 (FAO, 2018). This is an alarming situation as 1% of the forest cover is lost within 25 years. It has further been pointed out that agricultural expansion is the main driver of deforestation. Deforestation has many serious impacts on the environment. The loss of trees speeds up the process of climate change, results in floods, an increase in greenhouse gases, and soil erosion.

Climate Change: An Obvious Effect of Food Waste

The food we waste contributes to global warming. Global warming is a major threat to this planet. According to the estimates, food waste accounts for 8% of the global greenhouse gases (UNEP, 2020). The food we waste ends up in landfills and produces greenhouse gases. When food is composted, carbon dioxide is released, but when the food is dumped in landfills, methane is released which heats up our planet twenty-five times more than carbon dioxide. As more and more food is ending up in landfills, its impact on climate change is becoming evident.

Social Impacts

The impacts of food wastage are way beyond environmental impacts. When those of us who can afford food take an excess of it, the majority of it gets wasted and as we have limited food supply due to limited availability of land, a large number of people get food insecure. Globally, over 820 million people are living food insecure lives. According to Feeding America, more than 50 million Americans including 17 million children could go food insecure during the Coronavirus pandemic. This means their diet lacks nutrition which is required for healthy growth. Not only this, but food waste also leads to an increase in food prices and global food shortage. If we minimize the food waste by 25%, it will be enough to feed the additional 870 million people which is around 12% of the global population (WFPUSA).

The Last Effect of Food Waste: Economics Losses

Food waste accounts for the loss of trillions of dollars annually. The cost doesn’t only include the cost incurred during the food production phase, but it also includes the environmental and social cost which is the result of natural resource exploitation cost and the healthcare cost. According to FAO, food waste accounts for the loss of $2.6 trillion annually in America alone. So, imagine how big the number could be at the global level! Furthermore, when we talk about the economic impacts of food waste also includes the cost incurred on food waste management.
According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), avoiding food waste could save $665 per household annually. In short, there are Billions of dollars lost as a result of food waste. So, minimizing food waste can help us resolve all these issues and make this planet more livable.

Conclusion

Reduce food waste: food donation
With all these effects of food waste, it is hard not wanting to do something about it. We should and we can all do something about food waste. Share it, raise awareness about it. Reduce your own individual food waste, support organizations that tries to reduce food waste.
Looking for ways to reduce food waste? Here is a perfect article for you about food waste prevention.
Or are you curious to know the difference between food loss and food waste?
Please feel free to check out our different articles about food loss and food waste!

Resources:
Hannah Ritchies (2019). Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/global-land-for-agriculture
World Bank (2020). Water in Agriculture. Retrieved from: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water-in-agriculture
WWF (2020) Living Planet Report. Retrieved from: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/oceans_practice/smart_fishing/latest_fishing_news/?795071/WWFs-Living-Planet-Report-reveals-two-thirds-decline-in-wildlife-populations-on-average-since-1970
Eliza Barclay (2013). When you waste food, you’re wasting tons of water, too. Retrieved from: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/oceans_practice/smart_fishing/latest_fishing_news/?795071/WWFs-Living-Planet-Report-reveals-two-thirds-decline-in-wildlife-populations-on-average-since-1970
FAO (2018). The State of the World’s Forests. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/2018/en/
UNEP (2020). No time to waste: using data to drive down food waste. Retrieved from: https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/press-release/improved-climate-action-food-systems-can-deliver-20-percent-global
Feeding America. Retrieved from: https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts
World Food Program USA (WFPUSA). Retrieved from: https://www.wfpusa.org/explore/wfps-work/drivers-of-hunger/foodwaste/
FAO. Food Wastage Footprint. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/nr/sustainability/food-loss-and-waste/en/
               
Author: Monica Chang
On my own ethical journey since 2010. Always happy to learn more!