This article looks into reduced food waste as a climate change solution. It is based on the analysis of Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative to map the top 100 most effective solutions to reverse global warming.
Again, this is another mammoth climate change solution that a lot of people would not have expected to be in the top 3. But as we will see from the research that was carried out, it is one of the most important areas for action.
Food waste is especially problematic when we live in a world where many don’t have enough food to survive. The authors open with the following statement that:
“A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork.”
This enormous mal-investment is also contributing significantly towards climate change, as the authors point out:
“Ranked with countries, food would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, just behind the United States and China.”
Let’s look into the numbers that allowed reduced food waste to be ranked as the third most effective climate change solution by Project Drawdown. Reduced food waste could reduce CO2 emissions by 70.53 gigatons by 2050. This is achieved by making a 50% cut in food waste, which achieved a 26.2 gigaton reduction. Whereas 44.4 gigatons is saved by a reduction in deforestation for additional farmland that occurs because of the reduction in food waste. Global cost and savings data was too variable to be determined. Regardless, this is certainly a powerful solution.
There is a fundamental difference in food waste between developed and developing countries, which the authors explain:
“In places where income is low and infrastructure is weak, food loss is typically unintended and structural in nature – bad roads, lack of refrigeration or storage facilities, poor equipment or packaging, a challenging combination of heat and humidity. Wastage occurs earlier in the supply chain, rotting on farms or spoiling during storage or distribution.”
“In regions of higher income, unintentional losses tend to be minimal; willful food waste dominates farther along the supply chain. Retailers reject food based on bumps, bruises, coloring – aesthetic objections of all sorts. Other times, they simply order or serve too much, lest they risk shortages or unhappy customers. Similarly, consumers spurn imperfect spuds in the produce section, overestimate how many meals they will cook in a week, toss out milk that has not gone bad, or forget about leftover lasagna in the back of the fridge. In too many places, kitchen efficiency has become a lost art.”
As we can see, what is driving food waste is fundamentally different in developed and developing countries. They will therefore also require different solutions.
“In lower-income countries, improving infrastructure for storage, processing, and transportation is essential. That can be as simple as better storage bags, silos or crates.”
“In higher-income regions, major interventions are needed at the retail and consumer levels. Most important is to pre-empt food waste before it happens, for greatest reduction of upstream emissions, followed by reallocation of unwanted food for human consumption or another reuse.”
There is a whole host of downstream solutions that are beginning to appear, where entrepreneurs are looking to create value from what was previously considered waste. The authors point these out, but highlight that they are not a panacea:
“From an emissions perspective, the most effective efforts are those that avert waste, rather than finding better uses for it after the fact.”
The authors close with an optimistic viewpoint:
“Whether on the farm, near the fork, or somewhere in between, efforts to reduce food waste can address emissions and ease pressure on resources of all kinds, while enabling society more effectively to supply future food demand.”
What you need to know
This article looked into reduced food waste as a climate change solution. It was based on the analysis of Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative that mapped the top 100 most effective climate change solutions.
What is clear, is that reducing food waste globally has the potential to prevent massive amounts of carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere.
Food waste, especially in developed countries is a symbol of a broader throw away culture, that means that these countries exert an outsized impact on the environment. This requires smart solutions and education to prevent this from happening.
Solutions for developing countries are less technological but no less important. International development assistance should be directed towards building up capacity in these countries to prevent food waste from occurring. This would have significant social and environmental benefits.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
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