This lesson was taught to us in our childhood by our grandma. She used to emphasize that the last bite we waste, could be someone our kids to practice it.
The leftover bite in our plates is not counted as wastage of food until the plate is full enough to be noticed. That one bite means a lot to the people who go to bed empty stomach every day. Educating kids about food wastage, in fact, any such thing perceived by their eyes creates a lasting effect.
- We must cultivate a habit to get the extra food packed when we leave a restaurant after dinner and give it to someone who is actually in need! It would also give a lesson to the kids about sharing is caring.
- We must educate our kids about the production of food, and how much physical labour and other resources does it require to let the grains and vegetables reach our kitchen.
- We must encourage them to avoid wastage of food in any form.
Food systems in India
A significant amount of food insecurity is found in Indian Cities. In cities like Delhi, Chandigarh etc. protein and carbohydrate deficiencies were noticed as per the National Sample Survey’s consumer expenditure data. In some places, 40% of the population was under the threshold-this is where inequality really hits hard. The lower socio-economic strata in such urban areas were clearly facing considerable food insecurity. And Covid-19 has only exacerbated that. In India, we must acknowledge such urban food insecurity. If we do better food waste management, we could have both food security and environmental sustainability in our cities. The management of food waste is key to food security.
- The food loss is the food that never gets to us from the moment it is harvested.
- Food waste is the food that gets to the end of its life, i.e., in our fridge that we don’t eat. It has been fit for consumption but does not get consumed.
- Food waste or food loss is food that is not eaten.
- Often food has spoiled but it can be for other reasons such as oversupply due to markets, or individual consumer shopping/eating habits.
- Food wastage refers to any food lost by deterioration or waste.
- The causes of food waste or loss are numerous and occur throughout the food system, during production, processing, distribution, retail and consumption. Global food loss and waste amount to between one-third and one-half of all food produced. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, while in developed countries much food – about 100 kilograms (220 lb.) per person per year – is wasted at the consumption stage.
Buy only what you need
We must be aware that after purchasing the product should last 5 days as per the expiry date marked therein. But as consumers, we often buy more than we need and end up wasting a lot of this food. Also, we end up buying food which is near to its spoiling date. In fact, we are unaware when purchasing what the real expiry date is? Sometimes the retailers too are unaware of it.
Instead of buying big bags of fruits and veggies, buy them loose and only what you need. Check the bulk bins in your grocery store for nuts, grains, and dried fruits. You can get exactly what you need, instead of having extra ingredients that will be thrown out later.
Food waste management in India
Human existence in India is increasingly urban. As a rough estimate more than half of India lives in urban locations. By 2050, almost 70% of humanity will be living in cities. Cities also generate 90% of the world’s GDP. They have a global impact even though they occupy only three and a half percent of Earth’s land surface. Different cities of both developed and developing countries are affecting the planet both environmentally as well as in terms of living conditions and economic inequality. Obviously, food systems are especially relevant in this regard.
Most food waste in India actually takes place upstream or between farm to city. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) quantifies that about 10% of food waste in India takes place often because most small-scale farmers don’t have adequate food storage or cold chain facilities. Food waste is also caused by pestilence and rotting. Households themselves don’t throw away much edible food. In India, food waste is mostly pre-consumer.
Moreover, the urban nutritional shortfalls are mostly income-related, caused by high urban poverty. Even if people were earning better wages in cities, rents and other expenses were higher for those who have migrated.
However, better food waste management would mean less price volatility and thereby, reduced food insecurity.
Environmental impacts of food waste
If food decomposes anaerobically, it uses up oxygen and releases methane, which has greenhouse gas impacts. Further, in India, our agricultural sector markedly over fertilises crops. With less food waste, we can minimise such excessive use of fertilisers, which has huge impact on environmental impacts through nitrogen release that contributes to air and groundwater pollution. We also have crop burning which further increases air pollution. All these agricultural issues can be solved by tackling food waste more effectively.
Food waste by household and industry causes 10% of the emission driving climate change. With an enormous amount of land, water, chemicals, and fuel spent in generating, transporting, and selling food, each wasted morsal represents a degradation of nature that need not have been.
Role of Urban Households and Industry in Better Food Waste Management
As per a research study conducted across Delhi, it was found that food waste came about a kilogram per household each day. Out of that household, more than 50% was food waste. These are food scraps and not something that can really be eaten, but this gives us valuable opportunities. One of the most important is generating biogas, from such food waste. If cities segregate their food waste, they can convert it to energy, which would really benefit India where it can be cooking fuel and substitute imports of LPG. There are scientific ways of separating such food scraps to generate biogas. This can be done in a decentralised way—neighbourhoods can set up small waste management plants. Food scraps have huge potential to create sustainability in our cities.
‘Better food waste management will give India both nutritional and environmental security’
- It is possible to reuse food to produce biogas, harnessing food to energy.
- Neighbourhoods can collaboratively compost household food waste while social groups can organise food donations.
- Government can limit the amount of food waste sent to landfills while incentivising citizens to repurpose food via benefit schemes.
- Industry can boost storage facilities and encourage restaurants and retail to measure discarded food making these visible and solvable.
- We must endeavour to change each bite we waste into each bite that adds value.
While restaurants and grocery stores have the biggest impact on the future of food waste, we can all hold ourselves accountable, too. When we go to the grocery store (or better yet, farmer’s market), we should purchase the amount of food we know we can eat before it goes off.
As per the Research report of UNEP, FAO, The New York Times
- 931 million tonnes of food were wasted globally in 2019—570 million tonnes were wasted by households, followed by the foodservice industry and retail. The global average of 74 kg per capita of food wasted annually is similar across rich and poor countries now.
- India’s households discard 50 kg of food per capita annually—this is the lowest in South Asia.
- USA discards59 kg, China 64 kg, Australia 102 kg, and Nigeria 189 kg.
- One discarded apple wastes the 125 litres of water on average that go into producing it.
The carbon footprint of wasted food is 3.3 billion tonnes CO2, caused by fuel, chemicals, and greenhouse gas emission. Wasted food embodies 24% of the land, water and fertilizers used in agriculture— one third of the world’s agricultural land produces food that is wasted. Agriculture uses over 70% of the earth’s freshwater—24% of that safe water generates food that isn’t used.