“10% of rich countries greenhouse gas emissions come from food that is never even eaten (FAO, 2014)”
Did you know that it’s estimated about one third of food produced in the world is lost or wasted? That’s 1.3 billion tonnes of food. Every year. That crazy amount of food would take up 1.4 billion hectares of land – that’s almost twice the size of Australia! It’s estimated that the worlds’ population is expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050. To feed this amount of people, food production would need to rise by 60% to meet demand. So why are we throwing out so much food?
You wouldn’t think it, but food waste is also a pretty hefty contributor to global warming and climate change. Here, we summarise the top 3 unexpected ways food waste is linked to climate change.
Food waste = land fill = crazy amounts of carbon dioxide
For many countries like the UK, USA and Australia, the majority of the food waste and loss happens at the consumer level – that’s us here with the forks and knives and dinner table shenanigans. A recent report by the FAO estimates that food waste’s carbon footprint is a sizable 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Not only that – when food is thrown into landfill, it emits a powerful greenhouse gas into the air – commonly known as methane.
This gas is a huge culprit of global warming. In America, greenhouse gases from landfills accounts for 16 percent of US greenhouse emissions – and that’s not counting the total carbon dioxide emissions throughout the entire food process from growing plants to plate.
Food waste and ecosystems
Remember good ol’ high school geography and learning about ecosystems and biodiversity? The food we’re throwing out by the metric tonne has the potential to throw a serious curveball on the ecosystems of the world and its biodiversity – in year 8 geography terms, that’s animals living harmoniously in said ecosystem of the world.
The threats to biodiversity and ecosystems in Australia have endangered an insane number of species, while in developing countries, crops have the potential to threaten up to 44 percent of species survival. There is also evidence to suggest that marine ecosystems in recent times have been completely altered and some species nearly eradicated as a direct result of our excessive food consumption and fishing habits – and even more potently, through food waste.
So not only is the food we’re throwing out pumping more and more greenhouses gases into the atmosphere, but our overproduction of food throws a double whammy on entire ecosystems. If you didn’t think twice about throwing out that not-sure-if-still-edible apple or wasn’t sure if you really wanted to even eat that fish you bought in the first place, perhaps you might start to think twice before buying more than you can literally chew!
More meat = more carbon footprints
Ever thrown away a piece of steak, ‘cos you didn’t get to cook it in time? The journey that meat took to produce for you to throw away might just astound you. Recent research shows that meat production – in particular, cattle – has emerged as one of the top contributors to climate change.
With a whole bunch of fertilisers and crops used to grow the food for the, uh, food, it’s producing not-so-friendly pals of climate change, methane and nitrous oxide, which are among some of the most toxic greenhouse gases. One study equated the greenhouse gas emission ratios as “the consumption of 1 kg domestic beef in a household represents automobile use of a distance of ~160 km (99 miles)”.
Meat consumption is only going to grow as the world’s population gets bigger – so that meat you’re about to throw away? It’s only going to pump more methane into the ozone layer. Eek!
Want to see food waste in action?
The World Food Clock is like the timer that counts up instead of down. The number of tonnes of food we produce and waste every second will astound you.
Interested in some more info? Check out these useful links
Growing greenhouse gas emission due to meat production, UNEP Global Environment Alert Service Report (October 2012)
Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, Dana Gunders for National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Reducing food waste to help tackle climate change, Climate Action Programme
Big Facts on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (really cool interactive site)
Food Wastage Footprint: Its Impact on Natural Resources, September 2013, FAO
Images by sykicktb / jannbr / Ayla87 via sxc.hu