by Tytti Kaasinen, Head of Stewardship & Risk Engagement at GES
Whatever your other Christmas traditions and highlights may be, I am fairly confident that most of us have food at the top of the agenda in the coming weeks. Perhaps this is no different from the rest of the year, but there is something special about treating yourself and getting nostalgic about random foods over the festive period, isn’t there? So much so that we want to make sure there is plenty of it and there is no risk of running out of chocolates/stuffing/herring/carrot casserole (insert your favourite food item). Generally, it’s great: food is meant to be eaten and enjoyed. But it becomes a problem when vast amounts are wasted – not only during holidays but around the whole year, not only in homes but throughout the food value chain, and not only in one country but around the world.
About a third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. A third!! That accounts for 1.3 billion tonnes. This may be quite hard to picture or relate to, and indeed it could be more meaningful to measure the wastage not in tonnes but in units of currency or CO2 because of its enormous financial and environmental impacts. To illustrate, in the US, the value of food wasted annually is around USD 165 billion, which is more than the country’s budgets for its national parks, public libraries, veterans’ health care, federal prisons, the FBI, and the FDA combined. That’s a lot of money that could have been put to much better use! In the UK, where the nation collectively throws away over four million festive dinners each Christmas, an average family basically bins GBP 470 in the form of wasted food in the course of the year.
But perhaps even more serious and certainly more long-term are the environmental implications. Agriculture is the largest driver of deforestation, responsible for up to 80 per cent, and it uses 70 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources. With the wasted output, all those precious resources have been squandered and countless animals killed for nothing. Think about all the energy and nutrients required for food production and the emissions created in the process. In hard figures, this means that food waste represents 19 per cent of all fertilisers used globally, and just the amount wasted by Finnish households alone is equivalent to the annual climate impact of 100,000 cars. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of CO2. Yes, really.
Then there is the human dimension: two billion people could be fed with the amount of food that is lost and wasted annually. The relevance of food waste to development and human welfare is recognised by the Sustainable Development Goals where target 12.3 is to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030.
It is not all doom and gloom, however, and many countries and authorities have woken up to the problems of food waste. Individuals are starting to realise the effects of their behaviour, companies are revising their practices and coming up with new business ideas, and even investors have begun raising the issue with relevant holdings. This is something that I will be coming back to – in case you needed more reasons to keep following the GES blog in 2018!
In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy all the delicious food – but try not to waste it.
UN Global Compact: Zero Hunger Challenge Global Dialogue Series (Background note)
Rob Greenfield: How to end the food waste fiasco (TedxTeen) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w96osGZaS74&app=desktop