Do you ever consider what happens to all the food that isn’t sold before its expiry date? Think about all the fruit, vegetables and fresh meat at your local grocery store. They can’t possibly all be sold before going off. We never see mouldy strawberries or rotten chicken on the shelves, but the shelves are always full. So, where does it go?
What about your household? Do you always finish every piece of food that you purchase? How many times do you empty out your fridge or cupboards to find expired or rotten food? And then what do you do with it?
It’s wishful thinking to assume that all the food that is produced is consumed. The reality is much less optimistic. About 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is wasted and ends up in landfills. With the number of resources used to produce our food, its impact on the environment, and the number of people still hungry on our planet, the food waste problem is hugely concerning. So, what can we do about it?
The fact that so much food is being wasted when as many as 811 million people are going hungry in the world is a sobering fact on its own. But the impact of food waste goes far beyond that. When we talk about food waste, we are referring to any food produced for human consumption that goes uneaten. This includes everything from fruits and vegetables to grains and legumes. But arguably, the saddest component of food waste is that of the meat, dairy and egg industry.
Factory farming is already causing a devastating impact on our environment and on the animals themselves. And when the meat, dairy, and eggs produced on these farms are wasted, all the suffering and damage was for nothing. That’s not to mention the grain, water and other resources used to feed and grow them. It’s estimated that about 23% of meat produced for consumption is wasted.
Beyond the ethical impacts, we also need to consider the resources and energy used to produce all the food. This includes growing, harvesting, packaging, and transporting the food to the store and to your home. All stages of this process produce CO2, which impacts the environment negatively and contributes to climate change.
So, let’s take a look at how we can tackle the food waste problem.
In an ideal world, stores selling food would only purchase small amounts from suppliers to ensure that it all sells out and nothing gets wasted. But the reality is that we live in a society where people expect to have access to what they want when they want it. If stores don’t have what their consumers want in stock at all times, they will lose money and lose business. So, they will keep filling their shelves even if it means that they don’t always sell everything.
As the consumer, you can spark a positive change by being strategic with your purchasing. Don’t purchase more food than you need. When there is less demand, stores need to purchase less. Meal planning is a great way to ensure that you only get exactly what you need to make your meals without buying unnecessary food products. Always make a list and stick to it, and try not to go into the grocery store when you’re hungry. It might seem like a small step, but with households wasting between 30-40% of the food they buy, you can make a big difference.
Shopping local is a fantastic way that you can help reduce food waste. When you’re buying items that need to be imported from far distances, there is a better chance of them going rotten or spoiling before even making it to the shelf. And even if they do make it to the shelf, they won’t last very long. Buying products locally reduces the impact of your food on the environment as well, since it doesn’t need to travel a long distance, plus it puts money back into your local economy. It’s a win-win.
When shopping, always try to purchase what’s in season as well. Support businesses and restaurants that use seasonal, local ingredients to reduce the demand for imported goods throughout the year.
An audit of Whistler’s waste has shown that 54% of all the garbage that ended up in the landfill could have been composted. When food waste ends up in the landfill, it rots, producing methane gas. Methane is more than 25% as potent as CO2 when it comes to trapping heat and is, therefore, an even more significant contributor to global warming.
If you do end up with food waste, then composting it is the best option. Composting your food waste properly means that it won’t create harmful methane gases. Many cities have introduced composting systems with green bins where you can put your food waste out for collection. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. If you live in a community that doesn’t offer a composting system, then it’s a great idea to contact your local government official to push for it and show them that there is a demand (and encourage your friends to do the same).
If you have your own outdoor space or garden, you can create your own compost bin or pile, which you can use to reduce the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills. Plus, you can use it to fertilize your plants!
We have enough food to feed the planet ten times over, yet nearly a billion people are still hungry, and a third of our food is wasted. Something doesn’t add up here. Optimizing the distribution of food could dramatically reduce food waste. Send more food where it’s needed, and supply less where there is surplus.
Additionally, the storage and production of food, especially in developing countries, needs to be optimized. Without proper refrigeration and packaging, a lot of food can go to waste before it even gets to the store or consumer.
When choosing which food products to purchase, most consumers choose the most aesthetically pleasing ones, leaving blemished or misshapen options behind. These food items are just as nutritious and delicious as their “pretty” counterparts; they just may not look as pleasing. Putting initiatives in place where blemished products are sold for use in soups, sauces etc. or donated to soup kitchens or shelters is a great way to ensure the food isn’t wasted and still enjoyed.
Other initiatives to reduce food waste could include putting less food on the shelves in the first place to limit choice, prompting individuals to pick up the misshapen potato and buy it. In time, this could change how people pick the food products they buy.
Furthermore, all our packaging is certified compostable, and we do our best to divert all of our waste into the appropriate recycling and compost streams provided by the RMOW. We have also donated hundred of dollars to AWAREWhistler over the last couple of years, who are our local voice for the environment championing waste reduction and elimination strategies.
As with every significant change, a collective effort is required to truly see a big difference. Shop local, start composting and stop buying more than you need, and support initiatives in your community that are working to tackle this problem. If we all implement these changes in our lives and encourage others to do the same, we can have a big impact.