FOOD waste is climbing to the top of the sustainability agenda because producing and throwing food away contributes to climate change and environmental devastation across the globe. While changes can be made to the way food is produced, one of the best ways to make a difference as a consumer is to stop wasting the end-products and begin to value them in the way they deserve.
In the Philippines, food waste accounts for 52-percent waste volume people throw away. According to a 2011 Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Report of the United Nations, globally, the estimated food waste is roughly a third of the food produced for human consumption, which amounts to 1.3-billion tons per year. The idea of food being lost or wasted in various stages of the food cycle from production, transport, storage, processing, retailing and finally at the point of consumption – which, all lead to a considerable decrease of food not only in terms of quantity but also quality.
To illustrate, on-farm losses generally occur during or after harvesting which causes unexpected harsh climatic conditions, mishandling practices, pest infestations, and marketing challenges. Inadequate storage, poor handling of delicate produce, as well as lack of planning can also affect the food supply chain that can lead to farm products having a shorter shelf life. Further losses come during transport due to improper handling, logistical limitations, or human error.
Finally, a decrease in the quantity or quality of food also results from decisions and actions by consumers, or by retailers and foodservice providers that affect consumer behavior. For example, edible food that is considered out of date being discarded by both retailers and consumers, and edible leftovers being discarded by households. It is important to note though, that food diverted to other uses such as animal feed is not considered to be food loss or waste, nor is discarding the inedible parts of fresh produce, even though there may be some economic loss.
In our homes, consumer food waste is often caused by poor purchasing and meal planning; excess buying (influenced by over-large portions and pack sizes); impulse buying; confusion over labels (e.g., “best before” and “use by"); and poor in-home storing or stock management - preparing too much food and not knowing how to use leftovers.
From the first webinar celebrating Presidential Proclamation 760: Declaring January as Zero Waste Month, the EcoWaste Coalition invited some successful food bloggers and chefs to share some practical tips to guide us/consumers in shopping food wisely, and in doing so help reduce food waste. Here are some of these useful tips:
• Pre-shop planning. A meal plan and a shopping list are two of the best tools for reducing food waste.
• Buy what you need. Shops have many clever ways of encouraging us to buy more than we’ve planned. Use a basket or small trolley to shop if possible, as the larger the trolley the more we’re likely to buy. In addition, avoid shopping when you’re hungry or thirsty - have a glass of water and a snack before you go out as this will trigger unnecessary or compulsive buying.
• Be aware of promotional offers such as ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ and avoid impulse buys. Avoid checkout buys – these shelves are among the most profitable areas in a shop and where we tend to buy food we really don’t need.
• Buy local and in season. Food produced and enjoyed locally shortens the supply chain and limits the likelihood of spoilage during transit.
• Take note of "best before" and “use by" in food products and labels.
• Buy imperfect food (less aesthetically pleasing and nearer to their expiry dates) which is often sold at a discounted price. Purchasing these items signals to retailers that consumers will accept ‘imperfect’ food.
• In storing food in refrigerators, adopt the “first food in must be the first food out” to avoid further food spoilage.
• Be creative: learn new yet nutritious food recipes and how to reuse leftovers. Or, use surplus food as a way to connect with your community.
• Be mindful when we shop online: online shopping is not available to everyone but for many, it provides a convenient way of avoiding distractions and temptations. It also allows for planning and budgeting.
• Consider reducing your dependence on supermarket chains. Studies have shown that most of our food is purchased from the major supermarkets, with less bought from smaller stores and farmers’ markets. Food waste tends to be highest when people shop exclusively in large supermarkets, decreases when purchasing takes place in small shops and local markets, and is lowest when people also grow their own food. Consumers who buy local vegetables regularly tend to waste significantly less. Home-grown food is less likely to be thrown away because people are more aware of the time and effort that was put into producing it.
Reducing food loss and waste is an urgent and vital step in the process of creating more sustainable food systems. When we waste food, we are also wasting all the resources that have been used to produce that food, such as land, water, soil, energy and all the other inputs invested. Reducing food waste would bring numerous benefits. It would help to address food poverty as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it would protect the natural environment, and it would also save a lot of money.
We can all be passive consumers of food. Or, we can help shape the way our food is produced and consumed by becoming active food citizens.
(Jove L. Benosa is Zero Waste Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition)