In Europe, 88 million tonnes of food are wasted every year, which accounts for a fifth of all food produced.
In other words, a European citizen wastes 92 kilograms of food every year. Whereas, in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia, these figures turn down to 6-11 kilograms of food lost, per capita, on a yearly basis (Condamine, 2020).
The biggest culprits
Produce has to meet certain aesthetic criteria before arriving at our tables. According to the National Farmers Union, in 2014 around 20% of Gala apples were being tossed before leaving the English farms. Their colour was not red enough (Authority of the House of Lords, 2014). Fortunately, now, some retailers report that they have recently started using wonky vegetables and fruit in their fresh boxes, smoothies, and soups (Dobson, et al., 2019).
A lack of attractiveness is only one of the reasons why food is wasted before reaching the supermarket shelves. Overproduction, incorrect storage, and plantation diseases are few amongst the many other explanations for food dissipation.
Yet are farms and supermarkets the only ones deserving to be blamed for food waste? If, on the one hand, a great deal of food loss happens during the pre-consumption phases of the food supply chain, before reaching our fridge. On the other hand, the biggest part of food wastage takes place at the household level.
People’s affluence and food waste
Since it is established that we - consumers - are responsible for the biggest part of food thrown out, it is important to acknowledge the direct correlation that exists between people’s affluence and edibles tossed out of our homes.
According to Verma et al. (2020), this relationship emerges when people reach a threshold of $6.70/day/capita level of expenditure. Moreover, the authors state that for every 1% increase in affluence, food waste goes up by about 5-6%.
Consumers in richer countries waste more than their poorer counterparts. This fact should make us realize how complex and multifaceted food waste is. This issue entangles many different dimensions such as social fairness, sustainable deployment of natural resources and climate change.
Where the biggest wasters live
The complexity of the food waste issue does not allow clear comparisons between consumers in different industrialized countries. Each country surveys food waste in different ways. However, there are some statistics available that can help understand the overall scenario around the world (IFCO, 2020).
In the US, consumers at the household level waste 43% of all food produced. This means that more than 40 million tons of edibles end up in American landfills every year. According to recent statistics, in Europe, over 50% of food dissipation comes from private houses. In other words, 47 million tonnes of waste per year. British households represent 70% of the edibles thrown away. According to the Australian government, they waste a total of 7.3 million tonnes of food in a year. Consumers of China’s biggest cities wasted 17 to 18 million tonnes of food in 2015.
Landfills are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change and global shortage of natural resources. There is a need to take immediate action. Waste avoidance should be at the top of our priorities to mitigate climate change and secure nourishment for the global population.
Who is wasting the least?
France has earned the top spot in the Food Sustainability Index, a survey that ranks more than 60 countries based on their food waste, sustainable agriculture practices and health and nutrition records. According to the latest survey, French consumers waste 67.2 kg of food per person, every year. A figure that equals 95.1 kg in the US, 87.1 kg in Belgium and 78.2 kg in Canada.
The UK is the first country to be further than halfway toward meeting the SDG Target 12.3 of halving food waste by 2030. An achievement that earned the country a mention in the Champions 12.3 Food Loss and Waste: 2020 Progress Report (IFCO, 2020).
Some initiatives around the world
The EU Farm to Fork Strategy starting from May 2020 and Australia’s National Food Waste Strategy are examples of initiatives that intend to halve food waste by 2030. They are providing support, advice, and financial tools to ease the transition to a more sustainable food system.
In 2016, France introduced a legislation that compels supermarkets to redistribute remaining edibles to food banks and charities. Those who do not follow this rule, risk a two-year prison sentence and severe fines.
Meeting the SDG Target 12.3 will depend on a holistic, multifaceted, and complex approach, as well as robust government regulations.
Authority of the House of Lords. Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention. 2014. https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/lords-committees/eu-sub-com-d/food-waste-prevention/154.pdf
Condamine, P. The severity of food waste in Europe. New Europe. 2020. https://www.neweurope.eu/article/the-severity-of-food-waste-in-europe/
Dobson, M.C.; Edmondson, J.L. Ugly veg: supermarkets aren’t the biggest food wasters – you are. The Conversation. 2019. https://theconversation.com/ugly-veg-supermarkets-arent-the-biggest-food-wasters-you-are-111398
IFCO SYSTEMS. Food waste by country: who's the biggest waster? IFCO. 2020. https://www.ifco.com/countries-with-the-least-and-most-food-waste/
Verma, MvdB; de Vreede, L; Achterbosch, T; Rutten, M.M. Consumers discard a lot more food than widely believed: Estimates of global food waste using an energy gap approach and affluence elasticity of food waste. 2020.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0228369