Food waste

Why is BFC so mad about food waste?
Find out why!

One third of all food produced worldwide – 1.3 billion tonnes – is thrown away every year. In Europe, 88 million tonnes of perfectly edible food (enough to feed 200 million people) never gets eaten, costing us 143 billion euros. In Sweden, we throw away 1.3 million tonnes of food: enough food to fill the Ericsson Globe Arena to the top four times every year.

Many reasons contribute to food waste and several are the environmental, moral, and economical implications.

What is food waste?

Food is lost at any stage of the food supply chain, from the fields to the table.

Food loss is any food originally intended for human consumption that is lost at any stage of production because of poor management, inadequate storage conditions, logistics or natural disasters. Food waste includes food that is discarded, spoiled or expired in later stages of the supply chain by retailers and consumers. The food that is wasted by retailers is food that expires the shelf-life, overstocked, or that does not meet aesthetic standards. For example, it is estimated that 25-30% of carrots are discarded even before reaching the shelves on the stores because they are slightly bent, not orange enough, or because they are broken. At home, food is wasted because of excess buying, confusion over labels (“best before” and “due date”), and inadequate storing.

What can we all do on a daily
basis to reduce food waste?

While some food waste cannot be avoided (i.e., coffee grounds), most can be preventable! Purchasing “ugly” products, storing food properly, and cooking the food we already have at home before the next grocery are just a few of the small steps we can take to reduce food waste and combat climate change.

Where is food lost in the food chain?

In 2019, 931 million tonnes of food available for consumption was thrown into waste bins: 61% of which came from households, 26% from food service, and 13% from retail. In 2018, each Swede discarded about 11kg of perfectly edible food each month and the food waste has increased since 2016 by 4%.

Food is lost in every step on the food supply chain:

More than 50% of the food waste occurs in the ”upstream” phases (production, handling and storage), while the rest occurs in the “downstream” phase (processing, distribution and consumption). Agricultural production is responsible for the highest percentage of total food waste, accounting for 33% of the total food waste volume. The agricultural production is followed by post-harvest handling and storage, and consumption. While food waste during production is homogeneously spread across the globe, there is a geographical difference in the waste that occurs during the consumption phase, where high-income countries waste 30-40% of food, compared to <20% in developing countries.

What are the implications of food waste?

The greater the food wasted, the greater the environmental impact.

Food production has a major impact on land, water and biodiversity, and wasting food equals a frivolous use of energy, labor, and natural resources that went into producing, processing, transporting, and storing the food. Tackling food waste contributes to the fight against climate change.

Food waste has a huge carbon footprint!

If food waste were a country, it would be the third top emitter of greenhouse emissions, following China and USA. The carbon footprint of food waste is estimated to be 3.3Gtonnes of CO2, generating ~8% of global gas emissions. It is not only the energy needed in “downstream” phases of production to generate the food that is never eaten to contribute to greenhouse emissions. The consumption phase contributes to the highest carbon footprint (37%). The food that is later discarded and left decomposing in the landfills produces large amounts of methane and CO2, advancing global warming and climate change.

The amount of water required to produce food is usually underestimated and unappreciated. It takes 17.000L of water to produce 1kg of chocolate, 15.000L for 1kg of beef, and 822L of water to produce 1kg of apples. The blue water footprint (i.e., consumption surface and groundwater resources) is about 250 km3, over three times the water volume of the Vättern lake. And it is higher than that of any country in the world.

In 2007, the total amount of food wastage occupied 1.4 billion hectares of land, which represents 28% of the world’s agricultural land area. It is a surface larger than Canada and India together.

Food production has an intrinsic impact on biodiversity, by monocropping, agricultural expansion into the wild area, and deforestation. Deforestation due to agricultural expansion seems to occur today mainly in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the African continent, Western and Southeastern Asia and Southern America.

Ethical considerations

Food waste also represents an ethical challenge, with global hunger and malnutrition being a major health risk affecting over 820 million people daily. It is unfair that while one in every nine people suffer from hunger, food that could be fed 80 million people each day is lost or wasted. Food waste grows alongside the world population. With the world population in continuous growth, it is estimated that by 2050 an additional 593 million hectares of agricultural land (twice the total area of India), will be required to generate enough food to feed the entire population of 9.8 billion individuals. The demand of water for food production will also increase to 10-13 trillion m3 annually, which equals to 3.5 times more than the amount of water used today by the entire humanity.

Economic aspects of food waste

And finally, the environmental footprint and moral issues are complemented by an economical loss. The economical loss is of $1 trillion from food that is never eaten: each household loses 1500$ worth of food each year, the equivalent of one fifth of their groceries. The economy of food production reaches an annual cost of $2.6 trillion if we consider also environmental and social costs. The impact of food waste on the environment is estimated to cost each year $700 billion, and it was calculated by including carbon footprint, water use, land erosion, and biodiversity loss. The social cost of food waste is estimated to be $900 billion, which includes the nutritional deficiency and food insecurity of the low-income population driven by higher prices and lower amounts of food.