The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that every year approximately 6 billion tonnes of food is produced through agriculture for both food and non-food consumption, out of which 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food goes to waste. This huge amount of food waste results in negative impacts on the environment, economy, and social well-being. To mitigate the negative impacts it is essential to assess and minimizes food waste, which will not only release pressure on the natural resources but will also reduce the increased requirement of food production in the coming years.
The Impacts of Food Waste
The impacts of food waste are significant, especially for we take a look at how food waste correlates with climate change. Here are the main impacts of food waste:
Economic Loss of Food Waste that can lead to climate change
There is a significant amount of money that goes into food production. Thus, it increases economic costs when a massive amount of food gets wasted. According to the estimates, food waste accounts for an annual loss of about 750 billion dollars.
The production of food and processing of food products require a large quantity of water. Wastage of food means wastage of this vital natural resource. According to FAO, an estimated 250 cubic km of water goes to waste due to food wastage. This amount equals three times the volume of Lake Geneva. As per another estimate of FAO, in the past twenty years, the freshwater resources available per person have decreased by over 20% annually. Thus, food waste is considered to have a negative impact on natural water resources, and if food waste continues to increase there will be relatively fewer water resources available for future generations.
Food Waste and Climate Change: Land Loss
Land is another limited natural resource required for food production. Meat and milk waste majorly contributes to land waste accounting for 11% of total food waste and 78% of land occupation. Approximately 40% of cropland is consumed in the production of meat and milk that gets wasted each year. This results in the indirect waste of feed crops grown on the cropland for animals. However, 52% of total arable land is used for the production of food crops such as rice and wheat that end up getting wasted which translates into the wastage of such land. So, food waste can be attributed as a major reason for land loss.
Loss of Biodiversity
Deforestation and land conversion for farming has a major impact on biodiversity. Food production contributes to loss of habitat, pollution, and a decrease in diverse species. There is relatively less impact on biodiversity in developed regions as compared to developing regions. Crop production accounts for 44% of threatened species in developed regions relative to 72% in developing regions. The impact on biodiversity can be associated with food waste in terms of areas and commodities that contribute to a large amount of food wastage. For instance, cereal production is a major contributor to food waste in most areas of the world, which in turn attributes as the main threat to diverse species in those areas as a result of deforestation. Moreover, food waste generally goes into landfills and release toxic chemicals which seeps into the groundwater. These harmful chemicals pass into nearby water bodies posing threat to marine species. Hence, it can be concluded that food waste indirectly results in the loss of biodiversity.
Food Waste and Climate Change’s Direct Influence
Climate Change is a transboundary issue that is impacting nations, communities, and individuals at different levels. The impacts of climate change are now visible than ever before. Besides being influenced by fossil fuel emissions, deforestation, and several other similar factors, it is being largely triggered by food waste. It can be said that when food gets wasted in the later stages of the supply chain, it will have more adverse impacts on the environment. This is because relatively more resources will go to waste and result in greater impact when the waste is not managed properly. For example, food waste will have a lower environmental impact in the production stage as compared to when it reaches our table and gets wasted because then it involves transportation, packaging, and energy consumption as well.
Mostly, food waste ends up in landfills and during decomposition, it releases methane gas which is attributed as a greenhouse gas. According to Environmental Defence Fund (EFD), methane is considered to be over eighty times more powerful in creating global warming as compared to carbon dioxide during the initial twenty years of its release. During food production, harvesting, and plowing a major amount of carbon dioxide entering the environment. Annually, about 3.3 billion carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a result of food waste.
Animals such as cattle and goats are responsible for massive methane emissions during the process of feed digestion. Nitrous oxide is also emitted in terms of fertilizer production, soil emissions, and energy which is required for arable agriculture. Thus, the emission of such harmful greenhouse gases due to food wastage either in the upstream or downstream stages of the food supply chain results in global warming and climate change on a major level.
Why Reduce Food Waste to Fight against Climate Change?
The reduction in food waste will automatically decrease the need for food production which requires a significant amount of natural resources such as land, water, and energy. In this way, we can also prevent the emissions of toxic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which in turn inhibits climate change. According to a report of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), approximately 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions originating from food systems can be decreased as a result of a reduction in food waste. Therefore, it is necessary to minimize food waste at each stage of the supply chain to decrease the overall environmental footprint and stop climate change.
Over few decades, human activities such as deforestation, land conversion, and excessive application of fertilizers on agricultural land have persistently depleted the environment. To conserve the planet’s natural resources and prevent climate crisis, it is our responsibility to make sustainable production and consumption choices especially in terms of food waste minimization.
Want to take action on reducing food waste and make a different from climate change? Here are some way you can help, try to reduce food waste with our food waste hacks or support companies that are reducing food waste, like upcycle food brands.
“Fight Climate Change by Preventing Food Waste.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, www.worldwildlife.org/stories/fight-climate-change-by-preventing-food-waste#:~:text=If%20we%20avoid%20producing%20food,tons%20of%20greenhouse%20gas%20emissions.
“Food Wastage Footprints: Impact on Natural Resources.” Food and Agriculture Organization.
“Methane: A Crucial Opportunity in the Climate Fight.” Environmental Defense Fund, www.edf.org/climate/methane-crucial-opportunity-climate-fight.