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How to stop food waste and why it is hard?

How to stop food waste and why it is hard?

Project Drawdown has released and ranked solutions that will address climate change most effectively. The third highest ranked position was the reduction of food waste. If we (humans) would figure out how to stop food waste, the effect would be similar to eliminating 495 million cars off the road. Impressive.

1.3 billion tons a year

Indeed, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced in the world gets lost or wasted (accounts for 1.3 billion tons yearly). Average American wastes on average one pound of food per day.

Ripe Crop

How to throw away less food? The question sounds paradoxical as nobody in sound mind would throw food away. However, we do it with astonishing persistence. The system of producing, delivering and consuming food we are part of is inefficient and creates waste. Here is Seth Godin’s podcast about this very topic.

Food waste is third largest contributor to climate change

Food waste directly impacts our environment and accounts as a significant trigger in climate change. Scientists in 2018 have warned governments through UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the consequences of climate change:

Global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” around 2050 in order to keep the warming around 1.5 degrees C

Source: CNN

Here is a consolidated table of activities that would prevent climate change from happening, sorted from the highest to the lowest impact. Estimated impact evaluated in reduction of cars on the roads. The food waste issue ranked third. Highlighted in bold are areas with direct household impact.

The basket with apples
  1. Clean up chemicals in our refrigerators and air conditioners……..629 Million cars
  2. Harness wind energy on land……………………………………………………….593 Million cars
  3. Throw away less food……………………………………………………………….495 Million cars
  4. Eat plant heavy diet…………………………………………………………………..464 Million cars
  5. Protect and restore tropical forests……………………………………………….429 Million cars
  6. Educate girls……………………………………………………………………………..361 Million cars
  7. Increase women access to family planning……………………………………361 Million cars
  8. Build Solar farms………………………………………………………………………..259 Million cars
  9. Invest in nuclear power………………………………………………………………..113 Million cars
  10. Cook over clean stove…………………………………………………………………111 Million cars
  11. Drive electric car………………………………………………………………………76 Million cars
  12. Capture the power of the waves…………………………………………………..64 Million cars
  13. Ship goods more efficiently………………………………………………………….55 Million cars
  14. Switch to LED light bulbs………………………………………………………….55 Million cars
  15. Plant more bamboo…………………………………………………………………….51 Million cars
  16. Build with greener cement compounds………………………………………….47 Million cars
  17. Return land to indigenous people………………………………………………….43 Million cars
  18. Fly less…………………………………………………………………………………….35 Million cars
  19. Use water more efficiently…………………………………………………………32 Million cars
  20. Preserve coastal wetlands……………………………………………………………22 Million cars
  21. Design more walkable cities………………………………………………………….20 Million cars
  22. Increase household recycling…………………………………………………….19 Million cars
  23. Use smart thermostats……………………………………………………………….18 Million cars
  24. Compost waste………………………………………………………………………….16 Million cars
  25. Close the gender gap in small-scale farming…………………………………..14 Million cars
  26. Invest in high-speed trains……………………………………………………………11 Million cars
  27. Install green roofs…………………………………………………………………………5 Million cars

Top priorities

Would it be possible to set priorities according to this table to reduce the personal impact on the global problem? For instance, composting waste is beneficial but throwing away less food is 29 times more efficient. If we can master food trow-away problem, introduce (or at least improve) plant-based diet and replace our fridges, it would solve 36% of the problem.

Why it is so hard?

Before I jump into how to’s, here is a great article by National Geographic on why it is hard to avoid food waste. In essence, there are several things: we blindly believe labels on the food rather than our senses; we think we throw away less than we actually do; composting buys an indulgence; leaving food in the fridge to rot is the way we avoid guilt; we do not understand our food enough; most of us avoid frozen food; we love abundance in the fridge; most meals are not planned; our fridges are too large and there are several taboos that we follow that all lead to more food waste.

Abundance of food

It is hard to fight a system and it is even harder to fight our own biases. Here are things I follow as well some additional I found online during this research on how to reduce food waste.

Practical steps to avoid food waste

  • Improve the diet with plants. Besides the fact that a plant-based diet is good for the health, the industrial animals if combined are the worlds third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (compared to countries: source CNN).
  • Decide to prepare and eat at home. Start gradually and improve over time.
  • Avoid shopping while hungry or in excess stress.
  • Use the grocery list and stick with it. Buy only what you need and intended.
  • Shop as often as necessary, avoid weekend overloads and bulk traps.
  • Consider a change to bulk stores with less packaging material. Find farmer stores in the neighborhood.
  • Consider switching to plant-based milk.
  • Learn what goes into the fridge and what does not. Most sources contradict each other on this topic, it might be a trial and error process. Check one here.
  • Avoid mixing vegetables and fruits for them to stay fresh longer.
  • Learn to preserve food with wraps, glass Tupperware, reusable cotton bags, as well as, the old good ways:
    • Check apples, one rotten is enough to spoil the whole bunch
    • Keep bananas separate
    • Hang onions in the pantyhose
  • Learn to deal with leftovers.
  • Only if all above fails use compost bins or make compost place in the garden.

What are the strategies to avoid food waste that were not mentioned but you have experience in? Let us know in the comment below.

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