Waste not . . .

Half the world’s food is wasted, a report from the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers says.

 . . . the waste was being caused by poor storage, strict sell-by dates, bulk offers and consumer fussiness.

The study also found that up to 30% of vegetables in the UK were not harvested because of their physical appearance.

The institution’s Dr Tim Fox said the level of waste was “staggering”.

The report found that between 30% and 50% of the four billion tonnes of food produced around the world each year went to waste.

It suggested that half the food bought in Europe and the US was thrown away.

Dr Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today.

“It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.

“The reasons for this situation range from poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage infrastructure through to supermarkets demanding cosmetically perfect foodstuffs and encouraging consumers to overbuy through buy-one-get-one-free offers.”

Population growth

The report – Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not – also found that huge amounts of water, totalling 550 billion cubic metres, were being used to grow crops that were never eaten. . .

I was brought up with the mantra waste not, want not.

Those were the days when most people grew most of their own fruit and vegetables,  groceries were delivered once a week and very little was thrown out.

Now fewer people have gardens and many who live in cities go to the supermarket or deli every day. Living in the country means I’m not in town that often but it would be rare not to have at least three trips to the supermarket a week.

That makes it far too easy to buy something fresher and ignore older produce until it’s beyond redemption.

Before we left home on Christmas Eve I delved into the far reaches of the fridge and discovered some relics which were well past palatable and probably no longer healthy.

When we came home I did a serious pantry clean-out.

Lurking on the high shelves and in dark corners were jars and packets well past their use-by dates.

I take a reasonably liberal approach to such things. If it looks and smells okay chutney or jam a few months past its prime doesn’t worry me.  But if something has stayed on the shelf for years after it ought to have been consumed the best place for it is the compost bin.

However, I am sure that only a very small proportion of the food that comes into my kitchen goes out again as waste.

The report mentions waste in production and retail. Could part of the huge amount of food wasted be caused by an increase in dining-out?

It must be very difficult for restaurants to gauge how much food to prepare and once a lot of food has been prepped it has to be eaten or binned.  But no business would survive if it was chucking out half its food.

However, if you take into account waste in production, transport and processing as well as spoilage it isn’t hard to accept that around half the food produced is wasted.

Although that it happens when so many people don’t have enough to eat is shameful.

5 Responses to Waste not . . .

  1. Mr E says:

    Great Post. When I read it I tended to reflect on my own activites and experiences.
    I harvet my own food, more than most, making me a look, sniff and trim person. Skills that in my experience are lost by many. I have consumed a lot of what many would throw away and sometimes what some have thrown away…. Makes me sound like the homeless type.
    Managing a food glut makes people (and industry) more efficient at storage. A good reason for many people to try their own hand at food production.

    If I think wider about this post I wonder how to reduce the wastage issue. Is there a need for more seconds stores where items are discounted?
    Do we need science to better describe when food is safe and not? eg. Food-safe-ometer? Or is an education programme more important? Or all of the above?
    Of all the food shows on how many show the average person how to reduce wastage. We need more education I think.

  2. robertguyton says:

    I agree with Mr E and commend him for his dumpster-diving ways 🙂
    It’s not just food that we waste though, is it. We burn fossil-fuels like they’re an endless resource. We buy and toss plastic as though it doesn’t matter that it ends up in the environment. We waste pristine spaces as if there is an endless supply of them.
    We are spoiled and we are spoiling ourselves daily. Perhaps Mr E has reversed the tide of consumption, I’m going to believe that he has. His example is an excellent one for us all. I hope, Mr E, you can tell us more about your light footprint.

  3. Mr E says:

    Ha…. Preaching to the converted is not my style.

    If I self reflect I think my most wasteful years were my youngest years. The years when I could least afford to waste. I put it down to learning. Hence I suggest learning as a manner of improving. The problem with me at that age was I was not willing to learn about such things. How does one teach such things to the youth or those that need it the most? I can see a marketing nighmare. With your teaching experience you must have some ideas Robert? Imaging a 20 year old just left home. How do you change such a person on a topic like food wastage?

  4. robertguyton says:

    Old hacks like you and I can’t do it, Mr E but there is a way…
    …find a young person who has come to the realisation of their own accord and encourage them to spread their message through the ranks. I know of a number of “20” year-olds who are very thrifty indeed, with their consumption, particularly with food, who are actively “recruiting” their peers into a thoughtful, responsible way of life that involves growing their own food, choosing foods that are healthy in the long-term and in environmental terms, and able to source good food from unexploited places. I can provide further details, if you wish.

  5. Mr E says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Robert. But I was referring to the masses rather than an individual. To me it seems like a bit of a marketing nightmare.

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