Food Waste And Its Impact on the Environment & Sustainability

What is food waste?

What is food waste? Is it just the scraps that we have left over after cooking or after we’ve finished eating a meal? No! Food waste refers to the loss of perfectly edible food at any point in the journey that the food has taken, from the soil to our plates. It occurs when people, be they consumers, producers, or stores and supermarkets, dispose of food for reasons such as spoilage, excess production, or even because it doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing.

The annual uneaten food contains enough calories to feed over 150 million people.

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A massive problem that affects us and our planet

Don’t be naive in thinking food waste is just about the food. It’s also about all the resources that go into making that food, viz. water, energy, land, and labour. When wasted food rots in landfills, it leads to the unnecessary emission of greenhouse gases, namely, methane – a gas that has a much higher heat-trapping potential than carbon dioxide. This contributes to global warming, loss of biodiversity and overall environment degradation. So, the more we waste, the more we’re heating up the planet.

About 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to food loss and waste.

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With our increasing population, food wastage intensifies the strain on resources, depleting what could otherwise be used by people who live in regions that face drought and water scarcity. Even from the economic standpoint, we lose. Investing in production, sales and marketing, transportation and distribution all goes waste when the food doesn’t reach the intended customer. If we all performed our food related actions more mindfully, we could help fight hunger and malnutrition.

Global food waste has an estimated economic cost of about $1 trillion per year.

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How can you help to make a difference?

When viewed from a global perspective, food waste is a small piece of a much larger puzzle.

People can drastically reduce food waste by practicing mindfulness and making small changes in their daily routines. Here are 10 ideas to get you started –

1. Plan Meals and Make Lists (Plan for the week to start with)

2. Buy Wisely (Purchase only what you need and can consume before it spoils)

3. Understand Date Labels (Learn the difference between “sell by,” “use by,” and “best before” dates)

4. Practice FIFO (First In, First Out – Arrange your pantry, fridge, and freezer so that older items are at the front and newer items at the back. This helps ensure you use items before they expire.

5. Proper Storage Store perishable items like fruits and vegetables in ways that maximize freshness. Use airtight containers, and keep items like bread in cool, dark places.

6. Use Leftovers Creatively (Many dishes can be repurposed into new meals)

7. Portion Control (Serve smaller portions to reduce plate waste)

8. Composting (Composting food scraps not only reduces waste but also creates nutrient-rich soil for gardening)

9. Donate Surplus Food (Even if it means just a friendly post on your community FB page to share with your neighbours)

10. Freeze Excess (Freeze-friendly veggies and fruits can be used for later in meals and smoothies)

The ethical aspect of this is also important. By wasting food, we’re basically telling ourselves that we’re okay with some people going hungry while we have plenty. That’s just not right!

Individual actions might seem small, but collectively they can make a significant difference in curbing food waste and contributing to a more sustainable and responsible food system.

Roughly 1/3 of the global population experiences inadequate access to food.

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Steps taken by UAE to reduce food waste

The UAE is not free from this subject of contention, and it is in fact a significant problem. The annual cost of food waste in the UAE, has been estimated at $3.5 billion, with around 38% of the food prepared daily in the UAE, wasted.

On average, a person wastes around 225 kg of food each year, according to the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. To tackle this problem, the UAE has launched a National Food Loss and Waste Initiative – Ne’ma, to achieve the ambitious target of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. Ne’ma aims to address overconsumption to reduce food loss and waste across the entire value chain, from production to consumption.

The UAE Food Bank is another initiative that needs mentioning. Since its establishment in 2017, the UAE Food Bank has made significant progress in combating food waste. It has distributed over 55 million meals to beneficiaries, saving approximately 55,000 tonnes of food from being discarded as waste.

The community is also involved in raising awareness of food waste and reducing environmental impact through several local businesses. To name just a couple – HeroGo is one such business that promotes, what are viewed as ‘ugly’ fruit or vegetables. They have the same nutritional value as the ‘acceptable’ others, but may be oddly shaped for example, and people simply don’t pick them.

The Waste Lab is another local start-up business that turns food waste into composte, that is put back into the Earth to produce a more nutrient rich soil. The Waste Lab collect food scraps from households (and now even some corporations) while simultaneously raising awareness among the communities.

As a host of major global events, such as Expo 2020 Dubai, the UAE has had the opportunity to spotlight sustainable practices, including reducing food waste.

Through its collaboration with international organizations like the UN and FAO (food and Agriculture Organization), the UAE has aligned its vision with global initiatives to reduce food waste and promote sustainability.

In conclusion, the urgency of addressing food waste and the importance of a collective commitment to making food more sustainable, needs to be stressed.

The cost of discarding food waste is approximately $410 billion annually and yet there are more than 800 million hungry people worldwide, a rather distressing paradox of sorts. Let’s open our eyes and acknowledge this disconcerting incongruity and reflect upon the ethical ramifications of such wasteful practices.

Michelle Green-Jagtiani is a freelance writer based in UAE. She is learning about all things related to sustainability, soil regeneration, and circular economy. When Michelle is not working, you’ll find her at the gym or composting to get some good organic veggies growing in her garden.

7 Comments

  1. Great article explaining one of the greatest issues that our consumerist culture has generated .
    I like the pragmatic approach and most of all point 2, which aims to the biggest change of mind…stop over consuming just because they trained us to be happy just after buying. Sharing and caring make a happiness more durable.

    1. Exactly! The world needs more people like you who truly cares! ?

  2. I love how you are creating a community within the uae to educate residents about things that has great impact in the environment. Little things that if we do , can make a big difference with saving our natural resources.

    1. Thanks! We’re hoping to make a huge impact not just in UAE but all over the world. This is just the start. ?

      1. Aap ki soch bhi itni mahan hai aap ka lakshya jarur pura ho

  3. Wow, hats off to the UAE for taking such an awesome step. Keep up the great work.

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