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Food Waste: Is there cause for concern?

Author: Jerdayne Hayles

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is estimated that 20-30% of food produced in Jamaica is wasted. This is equivalent to US $7 billion. Food is one of the most common waste items sent to landfills.  At these landfills, food produces the greenhouse gas methane on a large scale and  contributes to the warming of our climate. Importantly, the concept of food waste should not be confused with food loss. Food loss largely occurs during production as a result of natural disasters, insufficient skills and resources, as well as poor infrastructure. Food waste, on the other hand, exists when consumers purposefully waste edible food due to insufficient meal preparations where food is either spoiled or expired or an oversupply of food.

Environmental Implications of Food Waste

One should understand that there are environmental implications of food waste. Some of these include:

  1. Methane is released when food starts to decompose at landfills. This greenhouse gas, compared to carbon dioxide, is roughly 25% more effective at trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is estimated that methane accounts for 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions. 
  1. With 70% of worldwide freshwater being used for agriculture, food wasted is water wasted! Varying from irrigation to pouring, water is an essential factor in the production of food as well as the rearing of livestock such as cows. It is nearly impossible to account for the gallons of water needed to facilitate food production, therefore wasting food squanders the water used to sustain our food systems. Vegetables and fruits especially, are the most water-laden food commodity. However, animal by-products are extremely water intensive, as the livestock drink gallons of water, and water is also required for the grain used to feed them. Reports estimate that a pound of beef is the equivalent of water used in 120 bathing showers.
  1. Food that is wasted also undermines the land used for production. There are two categories of land used for food production: arable land, which means land suitable for growing crops, and non-arable land which is simply land that is not. To keep up with a rising population, arable land is cleared and deforested to facilitate the rearing of livestock which results in the land becoming unfit for crop production. 
  1. Meat is the most globally wasted food. Questions have been raised about the purpose of livestock rearing as we take into account water and land used, not to mention the environmental aftershocks of such activity. 
  1. Following along the lines of deforestation, land that is cleared for food production also destroys the biodiversity of regions. 

Strategies to reduce Food Waste

As food waste becomes a cry for concern especially in a constrained environment, it’s imperative that we as individuals play our part to combat this global issue. Here are a few strategies to combat food waste:

  1. Stick to a strict grocery list. 

Generally speaking, people often buy more food than what is needed. Although purchasing in bulk has its perks, research infers that this method of shopping tends to lead to more food wastage. Sticking to a strict grocery list will not only reduce impulse purchases but more than likely reduce your food wastage.

  1. Store food correctly.

It’s not uncommon for people to question how to store produce, as a result this can lead to premature ripening and/or spoiling. A great tip to mitigate this is to separate food items that produce more ethylene gas for example, bananas and avocados from food items that are ethylene sensitive such as potatoes, leafy greens and peppers.

  1. Use leftovers. 

If you find that you’re cooking a lot more and often have leftovers, try storing leftover food in a clear glass container that will remind you each time you open the refrigerator. Additionally, try designating a day to have leftovers. This not only reduces time taken to prepare meals from scratch as well as money to purchase food items. 

  1. Compost. 

This is a resourceful way to utilize food scraps while simultaneously  providing energy for plants. Follow this link on how to compost in your backyard: (8) HOW TO COMPOST: A Simple Way to Compost in the Home Garden – YouTube

With the environmental and economical issues associated with food wastage continuing to worsen, significant attention needs to be directed to addressing this global concern before the long term effects ripple into the future. 

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