January 30, 2023

Stop Wasting Food to Slow Climate Change

From the garden to the garbage, how much does food waste weigh on the climate? The data tells us that it is essential to stop wasting food to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s how.

Food waste happens at all levels. According to the FAO, in fact, one third of all food produced for human consumption is likely to be wasted or thrown away. We’re talking about 1.3 billion tons of “waste” per year.

Although something is moving in an attempt to stop food waste, the senseless consumption of food occurs at different times.

It starts from the fields, where deformed/damaged products are discarded, passing through the waste of processing in the agro-food industry and unsold products of large-scale distribution, until it reaches the leftovers on the table of consumers. Waste is present at all stages of the food chain. And if consumers have a third of the responsibility for this waste, then more than 60% is attributable to the agricultural and agro-food industry and large-scale distribution.

Food waste generates avoidable greenhouse gases

Every ton of food wasted is responsible for 4.5 tons of CO2. In spite of the modern concept of circular economy, a U.S. EPA study shows that about 42% of CO2 produced in the U.S. comes from food production, processing and transportation. If it is estimated that a third of these products will not be consumed, we are faced with 14% of avoidable emissions in the production and distribution phase alone.

A budget that is heavily burdened by the transport and treatment of waste, the so-called “organic biodegradable”. If, on the one hand, very little information exists on the budget in the chain of collection and treatment of organic waste in the food industry and large retailers, some element of analysis comes from households. Door-to-door waste collection, in fact, amounts on average to a total of 530,000 tons of CO2 equivalent per country per year.

Moreover, around the world, food waste is still mostly hidden or burned, responsible for 19% of global methane emissions, a gas with a climate warming power equal to 23 times that of CO2. With incineration, finally, waste composed of water unbalances the energy balance of combustion and is responsible for CO2 emissions dubbed biogenes.

Red meat has the biggest climate impact

The climate impact of food waste is not the same for all foods. Animal foods have the highest impact on the environment and cause many more greenhouse gas emissions. The production of one kilogram of meat, for example, emits on average 30 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than the production of one kilogram of lentils. Food waste of animal products therefore weighs much more heavily in this “climate balance”.

Changing the type of meat people eat can also have a major impact on their environmental impact. A study by Ranganathan reveals that reducing beef consumption by a third in favor of white meat can reduce CO2 emissions by around 15%. That’s because beef production alone uses a third of the water used in the entire global food supply chain.

Reducing beef consumption can therefore play a key role in preventing the earth’s temperature from rising above the dreaded 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond a strong ethical and social dimension, therefore, there are also important climate issues that play a role in reducing food waste at all stages of the production chain.

10 Rules to Follow to Stop Wasting Food

The National Union of Consumers has recently compiled a decalogue with the aim of limiting the products that end up in the trash. Here are the ten simple rules to combat climate change caused by food waste:

  • Prepare a shopping list: getting used to planning, without necessarily being too meticulous, the meals of the week, can dramatically decrease the number of foods that end up in the trash.
  • Look carefully at the expiry date of the foods in your cart: often the foods with the longest remaining life are the ones least in sight on the shelves.
  • Avoid shopping on an empty stomach, in this way your trolley will not be filled with the typical useless products that you buy when you are hungry.
  • Pay attention to the convenience formats: very simply, the famous 2×1 or 3×2 are convenient only if you actually consume the product, otherwise they only risk to swell the bin.
  • Store food by expiry date is a simple rule and extremely effective against waste: products with a later expiry date go in the back, older ones should be placed in front to consume them sooner.
  • Use the refrigerator strategically: this is fundamental in the battle against waste, including energy waste. I remind you that the ideal temperature for the refrigerator is 4 degrees.
  • In the refrigerator, put each food in the right place, following rule 5 (seen above) to preserve food for longer. Fruits and vegetables in the drawers, pitch and raw meat on the second floor, cooked meat on the second, sliced meats and cheeses higher up, preserves already opened and eggs even higher up.
  • Freezing leftover food is a useful way to use leftovers before they go bad, always try to write the date on the container. Remember, too, that food that has been thawed and subsequently cooked can be refrozen.
  • Vacuum Sealing, Garden Composting and Leftover Cooking are three useful ideas to stop wasting food. So you can combat climate change due to food waste in a creative and fun way.
  • Before you throw away, open, smell, taste, grandma’s evergreen advice.