One of the greatest paradoxes of our modern age is the huge amount of food that is wasted every day as well as the huge number of people who go hungry from a lack of food every day. It seems silly that both of these two problems could happen at the exact same time. But they do. Across the world, one third of food production is wasted while 795 million people go hungry. So what can we do? Well, one thing we can do is cut down on our waste.
How Much Food is Wasted?
Food waste is a gigantic problem. So gigantic, that the amount of food wasted around the world each year is 1.3 billion tonnes or 2.9 trillion pounds. That’s equivalent to 9553 blue whales - the largest animal in the world.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that one third of all produced food is wasted before it can be consumed. This good food is wasted when it spoils before it is eaten or damaged before it reaches a store. The FAO estimates that the cost of food waste is $750 billion per year. However, this sum doesn’t include any side-effects like the impacts on biodiversity and social conflict. The FAO believes these added side effects could add an additional $700 billion to the total cost of food waste.
In addition to food waste, food production in itself is already a very costly process, both monetarily and environmentally. Soil used for food production loses nutrients and helpful organisms. Food production causes pesticides and other toxins to enter the air and waterways. Nitrogen, which causes algal blooms that suffocate marine life, is added to the water. And food production accounts for 69% of water use around the world. Dangerous greenhouse gases are produced in such a high volume that agriculture is second only to energy in the production of carbon dioxide.
How Developed Countries are Creatively Reducing Waste
So with all that waste and expense, how are we keeping up? Luckily, some innovative companies have decided to fight back and tackle food waste head on.
Barnana is a company that has “closed the banana waste loop” according to chief marketing officer, Nik Ingersol, in his interview with Forbes. Barnana makes snacks out of dehydrated bananas from Latin America. Before Barnana, these bits of discarded banana would have gone to waste because the bananas were overly ripe, scuffed or visually unappealing. Barnana has taken their creative waste reduction a step further by using dried banana peel pellets to power their dehydrator.
Koffiekik, a company in the Netherlands, is working to grow oyster mushrooms using discarded coffee grounds as fertilizer. They are taking food waste that most people create in their kitchens every day, and using it to grow protein-rich mushrooms.
In the United States, two companies on opposite coasts are paving the path towards clever food waste reduction. Imperfect Produce in California has created a business out of selling produce that supermarkets deem too unsightly for their shelves. They sell produce, often of a strange shape or size, for 30-50% below market price. In the Bronx, New York, Baldor Fresh Cuts takes food scraps from restaurants and turns it into healthy edible food items. For example, they use carrot tops and pineapple cores and turn them into cookies, supplements and breadcrumbs. Tom McQuillan, the director of foodservice sales and sustainability at Baldor, explains their philosophy. “The idea is to take an item that normally would be wasted and turn it into a consumer product,” he says. “It’s a great way to get food into the hands of the food-insecure, and to people who should be eating healthy foods.”
How Developing Countries are Creatively Reducing Waste
Of the 795 million people who suffer from chronic undernourishment, the majority reside in developing countries. 12.9% of the population in developing countries (compared with 5% in developed countries) suffer from chronic undernourishment. Unfortunately, these countries with the greatest hunger needs are the least responsible for food waste.
So even though developed countries are contributing more to the food waste problem, it is still a major issue in developing countries. However, it isn’t so much a problem of people not wanting unappealing produce, but an inability to keep food fresh. For example, India loses $5.8 billion worth of produce every year due to a lack of refrigeration.
Azuri Health, a company in Kenya, is working to stop food loss in mango crops. In Kenya, half of the mangoes grown spoil before they reach the market. Azuri Health creates dried mango products from the mangos that wouldn’t make it to market - a great source of nutrients with a much longer shelf life.