An overview of food waste
1,3 billion tonnes. This is the weight of food wasted every year, equivalent to about a third of the total produced annually in the world. This number becomes even more relevant when compared with the number of starving inhabitants of the planet in 2019: 690 million people.
But what is meant by “wasted food”? First of all it is necessary to distinguish between food loss and food waste. In the first case we refer to food losses that occur during the agricultural production, post-harvest and processing phases of food production (therefore, losses that depend on logistical and infrastructural limitations). In the second case we refer to food waste occurring in the distribution, sale and consumption part of the food chain (losses that depend on behavioural factors).
Secondly, if “food” means everything that is potentially intended for human consumption (including beverages and substances used in its preparation), a further distinction must be made between edible and non-edible parts of the food and it must be specified that both are included in the count of wasted food.
Environmental impact and food management
We usually tend to look at food waste by focusing only on organic food, but there is a fundamental background to consider. In addition to the organic part, the packaging and wrapping of the food is also thrown away, amplifying the pollution.
Furthermore, if the food is not consumed, the raw materials from which it derives and all the resources that made its production possible (fields, water, human labour, machinery, etc.) have been exploited in vain. In terms of environmental impact, the debate also extends to the consequences of organic waste if it decomposes in landfills, i.e. to the production of gases that increase the greenhouse effect.
In particular, the 2013 FAO report analysed the issue taking into account the carbon dioxide, the volume of water used, the area of land exploited, and the biological diversity living in the ecosystem of the production phase.
According to the report, each year three times as much water as Lake Geneva is wasted, 3,3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are lost, 1,4 billion hectares of agricultural land (28% of the world’s agricultural land area) are used and some 750 billion dollars are lost.
The most incredible thing is the step in the food production chain that generates the most waste: domestic food handling. In fact, food is handled better in production and retail, while the percentage of food (out of total waste) that is thrown away reaches 61% in a domestic setting. It has been estimated that on average, each citizen in the world wastes 74 kg of food each year, especially fresh fruit (37%), fresh vegetables (28%), salad (21%) and fresh bread (21%).
Solidarity against waste
The fact that it is the household management of food that leads to the greatest waste places a great deal of responsibility on us, allowing us plenty of room for improvement. Often food is thrown away because it is bought in excess or simply forgotten.
With just a few tricks, we can make a big difference to the food landscape: from carefully planning your shopping list to inventing new recipes to “save” food with a short shelf life.
One of the most brilliant and accessible strategies that can be implemented is the use of the Too Good To Go app, which connects bars, restaurants, greengrocers, etc., with all its users. Each point of sale participating in the initiative that has leftover food, indicates this on the app, sets an extremely convenient price, a time when the goods can be collected and the location of the premises.
The user, by consulting the app, can pay in advance and order his magic box: since it is not possible to predict what food will be left over throughout the day, it is not specified which food the box will contain. In addition, there is a great concern for both the environment and the customer: all packaging is made of biodegradable materials and it is always possible to report any allergies or intolerances upon packing the box.
It’s an extremely simple and equally effective mechanism, which allows, in a fun way, to draw attention to the issue of food waste and at the same time be useful both to shopkeepers, who avoid throwing away unsold goods, and customers, who can access food at a very convenient price. As the app points out, by managing food at home in a more conscious way and taking advantage of the redistribution of leftover food, «you are now officially a Waste Warrior!».
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Elisa graduated in Philosophy (Uniupo) and graduating in Philosophical Sciences (Unipd) and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Contemporary Art Curatorship (A+A Gallery in Venice). Sensitised by recent global events, she decided to join the Atmosphera lab initiative.