Thursday, June 1, 2023

How food waste impacts the environment and what it takes to create a sustainable future

FoodsHow food waste impacts the environment and what it takes to create a sustainable future

Bringing food from the farm to the table involves several steps that use water, energy, and chemicals, each impacting the environment. For instance, the chemicals used in food packaging, pesticides, and fertilizers entering the waterways harm aquatic life through a process called eutrophication. Food production accounts for more than 26% of global greenhouse emissions, with fisheries and livestock being the major contributors. 

Water use is another crucial factor in the environmental impact, with agriculture being the industry that uses it the most. Rainwater, groundwater, and surface water are necessary to produce food and dilute waste materials generated.

With so much awareness being raised both at the business and customer level, it’s only natural to wonder what’s in store for the future and how food and diets take a toll on Mother Earth’s health, so let’s dive into the topic and discover how climate and food are interlinked and what food waste management is all about. 

Food and climate change are linked

Food and the environment have a complex and multifaceted relationship. Food systems include processing, preparation, packaging, transportation, cooking, and sometimes disposal, all of which are responsible for one-third of the anthropocentric greenhouse gas emissions released, trapping the sun and contributing to global warming.

The way food is produced significantly impacts the environment. Intensive livestock farming, for instance, releases large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and can lead to deforestation. Overgrazing and overstocking can contribute to desertification and affect the Earth’s biodiversity.   

If you’ve ever imagined the long journey food takes to get to your plate, you’ve probably realized that it consumes a lot of energy and resources. The same happens when it is transported to restaurants, for instance. Only that the business activity has more power to harm nature as they’re disposing of large quantities of waste and trash, be it food, plastic, or expanded polystyrene.

Companies worldwide seeking ways to contribute to environmental efforts and appeal to a broader base of customers can make a significant difference only by choosing eco-friendly ways to dispose of waste and trash. For instance, the packaging and delivery processes use plenty of expanded polystyrene, plastic, cardboard, and aluminium, and the resulting business waste takes up valuable storage space. Still, using solutions provided by waste-management specialists from Miltek Sweden, the materials are recycled and turned into valuable resources that can be sold, helping businesses achieve their sustainable initiatives and also reducing their environmental impact.

Easing the strain on the environment

How we consume our food has a significant sway on critical environmental processes, and only by consciously regulating what and how we eat can we reduce the pressure on our surroundings. According to a study conducted by Harvard researchers, plant-based dietary patterns have the power to reduce carbon footprints and mitigate climate change. At the same time, less healthy eating habits are generally linked to higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the debates surrounding veganism and vegetarianism, it’s generally accepted that reducing dairy and meat intake addresses the environmental impact of the industries behind these types of products.

However, it’s important to remember that not every veggie-based diet is completely safe for our Earth. How they are grown, packed, and delivered can be more responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions generated than a local meat factory.

Food waste worldwide

According to research, over 30% of all food produced is wasted yearly, or more than 2.5 billion tons. This figure is even more startling, given the issue of poverty and hunger worldwide, and the sources of uneaten food go beyond the leftovers thrown away after dinner. An important distinction must be made between food loss and waste. The first term includes food lost at each stage of the production and distribution processes, from the farm to the supply chain, and occurs before the products reach the consumer. Food waste, on the other hand, refers to edible food mass originally produced for human consumption that expires, is lost, or gets discarded.

Developing and low-income countries face this phenomenon the most, as they often lack the adequate and needed infrastructure to transport the goods, leading to spoilage. Additionally, high energy costs for drying or refrigerating and inadequate storage and transportation hinder a circular and sustainable food system. 

Coming up with solutions to manage food waste

Food waste problems range from industrial to individual, and myriad factors contribute to the phenomenon. The main reasons are energy price increases, excess production, inefficient management, poor infrastructure, purchasing preferences, and retail standards. They impact the three realms of sustainability: environmental, social, and economic. Food waste management solutions are paramount now more than ever, and everyone can be part of them, from the smallest of communities to giant corporations.

Innovators in tech and science explore and discover new solutions to food waste, and governments take proactive steps in this regard. For instance, the European Commission aims to meet the Sustainable Development Goal by halving food waste per capita at the retail and consumer level by 2030. The United States shares the same goal over the same period of time through the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. The actions include research, community investments, tool development, education and outreach, technical assistance, and so on, and all aim at the same goal of reducing food waste and loss by 50%.

Why the world needs circular food systems

A circular food system is the answer to the worrying food waste phenomenon. This supports reuse and sharing initiatives, favors regenerative production, and minimises resource inputs while ensuring resource recovery. It involves sharing, reusing, recycling and repairing existing products and materials, and countries known for their sustainable attitudes, like Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden are among the best examples to look into. Therefore, they close resource loops and reduce food waste production, reducing the pressure on natural resources and achieving the food waste management goals. 

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