Every year we waste 1.3 billion tonnes of food which then creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas
Reduction prices and deals in the supermarkets get all the attention when we go shopping for the family. The isles are full of them and we usually focus on two things: our appetite and the price. We are attracted to buying more food than we need due to these deals and before we know it, our baskets are full and we bring them home. A lot of this food will end up to be forgotten, at the back of the fridge or cupboard and they will eventually end up in the bin, without a second thought.
In addition to the social implications of waste, in a world where approximately 805 million people go to bed hungry every night, the environmental impact of the production and disposal of food is staggering.
Every year, UK households waste 6.7 million tonnes of food.
It has been estimated that over 60% of the 1.3 billion tonnes of waste created globally each year could be classed as avoidable and most of it comes from our own homes. Every year, UK households waste 6.7 million tonnes of food. That is nearly 300,000 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty.
if the UK stopped wasting food it would equate to taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.
Nearly all of that food waste ends up in landfills and starts to produce methane, one of the more potent greenhouse gases. Many people do not realise how much environmental impact this actually has, so to put it into context, if the UK stopped wasting food it would equate to taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.
Atmospheric chemist, Alex Turner, studies the impact methane has. He told me: “Greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation that would have otherwise escaped to space. This energy is taken up by the climate system and leads to a variety of problems including: surface warming, a reduction in Arctic sea ice, and an increase in global sea level.”
Turner outlined that there are two methods for estimating emissions of methane: bottom-up and top-town. Bottom-up methods compute methane emissions as the product of activity data (the number of food items thrown away) and emission factors (methane emissions per item). However, both the activity data and emission factors can be uncertain to calculate. Top-down methods then use atmospheric observations to constrain emissions with an atmospheric model.
“On the global scale it is estimated that ‘Agriculture & Waste’ are 29% of the global methane budget using bottom-up methods and 38% using top-down methods.”
Supermarkets and the food service sector have strict quality controls applied to perfectly edible foods, which may not meet the visual or ripeness standards of the company so food often gets thrown away or in some cases they allow employees to bring food home.
Jamie White, former Nando’s employee, believes that all companies should allow employees to take leftover food home, but even then it does not ensure there will be no food waste. She said: “They allowed us to take the food home unless it could have been off somehow. This is great as I know a lot of companies will just throw the food away, especially supermarkets.
“There is still a problem here though, because even when we can take food home, sometimes there’s so much leftovers that I cannot eat it all so I end up throwing it away anyway.”
Governments have begun to wake up to the issue, with France becoming the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks. The law, voted in unanimously by the French senate in February 2016, applies to any supermarket with a footprint over 400 square meters and will be enforced by fines of up to €3750.
The Italian government soon joined them by bringing in incentives to businesses to donate food, and ultimately made plans to amend food safety regulations to allow the donation of food after its ‘best before’ date has expired.
Other countries like the UK have yet to take action but growing public concern has led to the formation of various non-profit organisations.
The Real Junk Food Project is one of these charities. It was founded in 2014 as a ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafe. They take otherwise wasted food from supermarkets, restaurants, farms and homes and prepare healthy meals and resell fruit and vegetables.
Founding Director, Adam Buckingham said: “Preventing food from going to waste and feeding people who need it – it’s such a beautifully simple concept that works. It feeds people and provides everyone access to healthy nutritious meals, regardless of financial status.”
Since starting, the whole network has prevented over 1200 tonnes of food from going to landfill and fed over 120,000 people. There are now several of the events around the UK by the organisation and over 120 PAYF cafes globally, as more and more people become inspired to get involved.
“Food waste is terrible for the environment, the methane produced at landfill contributes to global warming which is increasing at an alarming rate. It’s also criminal that this food is being produced, transported around the globe, using up vital resources like water, fuel and time and manages to miss everybody’s mouth. Especially when there are millions of people starving in the world.”
One of the 120,000 people to be fed is Riley Charleston, who goes to the events each day throughout the week in Brighton. He said: “I’ve been homeless for two years now and for the last few months, they feed me almost every day. The fact that the food served would have been wasted is shocking and frankly, unforgivable.
“All shops in the UK should be forced to donate and so should people. I am ashamed to say that before I became homeless, I, like most people, was completely careless with food.”
Legislation can only go so far with supermarkets, but with most food waste coming from our own homes, it is clear that each of us are to partially blame for our contribution, no matter how small it may be.
Reducing food waste is not an impossible task. The Real Junk Food Project advises people to plan what they eat each week, avoid supermarket offers, share meals and freeze leftovers. Donating or composting food will also go a long way in helping this environmental and social issue.
Below you can see the images from The Real Junk Food Project. Note that most of the food served would have otherwised been sent to the landfill!