We’ve all heard the story before—as a planet, we continue to waste a large portion of our precious food resources daily. But with a new study out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this news takes on a more sinister picture. We’re not only squandering one third of food—1.3 billion tons—globally. As a result, we’re also stamping a huge carbon footprint on our planet.
FAO’s report, “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resource” is the very first of its kind to study the impacts of global food waste from an environmental angle by analyzing its effects on the climate, water and land use and biodiversity. What researchers uncovered is quite staggering and should serve as wake-up call to us all.
According to the study, the total food produced but not eaten each year gulps up 250 cubic kilometers of water, the equivalent of the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, reports Environmental News Service.
What’s more, much of our agriculturally fertile land is entirely wasted. Almost 30% of the world’s farmlands, around 1.4 billion hectares of land per year, used to till and harvest crops and care for livestock go directly into the dumpster.
The study’s astounding conclusions don’t even stop there. The total carbon footprint of wasted food amounts to 3.3. billion tons of carbon dioxide every year—more than any country, except for China and the U.S, reports Earth Day Network via EcoWatch. Additionally, by throwing away 1.3 billion tons of food annually, we are also flinging $750 billion a year into the trash.
“We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, the UN agency that produced the report.
In developed countries, most of the wasted food comes from consumers purchasing too much then throwing away what isn’t eaten. In developing nations, inefficient farming methods and inadequate storage facilities are the main causes of food waste.
The report points out major food products wasted per region. According to Raw Story, cereal waste (mainly rice) amounts to 80 kilograms per person in Asia and has emerged as a “significant environmental hotspot.”
In Latin America, Europe and Asia, high volumes of vegetable waste is contributing to both significant water waste and carbon emissions. And high-income regions, excluding Latin American, are to blame for 67 percent of all meat wasted annually.
So what can we do to stop this madness? Thankfully the FAO report is comprehensive and comes with its own accompanying “tool kit” with recommendations on how food loss and waste can be minimized at every stage of the food chain. The kit also provides examples of projects from around the world that show how governments, farmers, businesses and individual consumers are attempting to solve this problem.
Da Silve puts it quite succinctly, “All of us – farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers – must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t.”
At home or at work, we may not be able to do much about other factors that contribute to excess greenhouse gases in our atmosphere or climate change, but we can do something about our relationship with food. For one, we can actually develop a healthy relationship with it, where we are not just conscious consumers, but are also in tune with how what we purchases goes from our shopping carts into our trash bins.
Image source: Masahiro Ihara / Flickr