Friday, 4 November 2016

Food Wastage and its Impact on Environment

When we talk of food wastage , we have in mind  the wastage of cooked food .But  there is a wastage of food all along  the food  supply chain .There is a wastage at the stage of production , post -harvest , storage , processing , distribution and finally at consumption stage .At global level , there is a wastage of  1.3 billion tonnes of food every year. Total agricultural production  for food and non-food uses is about 6 billion tonnes.   FAO’ s “Food Wastage Footprint : Impact on Natural Resources “ is the first study to analyze the impacts of  global food wastage  from an environmental perspective, looking specifically  at its consequences  for the climate , water, land use and biodiversity.
                  FAO study report says  that 54% of  the world’s food wastage  occurs during  production , post-harvest  handling  and storage, remaining 46% of  wastage happens  in the  processing , distribution and consumption  stages. Thus farmers ,  traders , consumers and all citizens  are all stakeholders in the reduction of food wastage .The direct  economic losses due to food wastage are  of the order of $750 billion  every year .(This is the figure of 2007 , as reported by FAO).This is equivalent to the  GDP of Turkey or Switzerland .This is a low estimate since it mainly considers  producer prices  and not the value of end product .
                                       But economic costs are not the only reason why we should reduce food wastage. Environmentally , food wastage is responsible for  adding 3.3 billion tonnes  of green house gases.As such ,  food wastage ranks  as the third top  emitter after  USA and China.Food wastage contributes to the largest volume of material in landfills in the US and accounts for 21% of total waste system  in that country.Methane emissions  from landfills  represent the largest  source of GHG emissions from the entire waste sector , contributing around  700 million metric tonnes of  Carbondioxide equivalent per year .
In addition , there is water footprint related to  food wastage .Globally ,  consumption of water resources((both surface and ground ) of food wastage  is about 250 Km cube , which is equivalent to  3.6  times  consumption of the USA  for  the same period   .     Besides environmental  costs , there is a major moral  imperative related to food wastage .While 870 million people  go hungry every day , we cannot  allow one-third  of all the food we produce , to go waste .This is criminal .
But what is happening  to food wastage  over time?In US , food waste has increased by  about 50% since 1974 , and now accounts for  nearly 40% of  all food produced  in the US..Across the supply chain , the loss is  1400 kilocalories  per head per day.Food waste accounts for  a quarter of the fresh water  supply , and 300 million gallons  of oil a year .In the times of water shortage  and higher gas prices , that is a lot of wasted resources.One billion people could be fed for a year  with the amount  only the USA  wastes every year.This obviously indicates  the need for stepping up efforts to prevent food wastage.

How to prevent food wastage?
In developing countries , significant post-harvest losses are a key problem , occurring as a result of  financial and structural limitations in  harvesting techniques , storage  and transport infrastructure .Climatic conditions also add to  food spoilage.In India , we need to pay more attention  and devise policy measures to reduce food  losses at these stages .In middle and                                             
high-income regions , food wastage at  the retail and consumer level  accounts for 31-39% of the total wastage  while in low-income regions , it is 4-16% of the total wastage.FAO report also says that  the later a food product is  lost or wasted along the food chain ,  the greater the  environmental consequences , because  the environmental costs  incurred during  processing , storage and transport  and cooking must be added  to the initial  production costs.
               The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include target number  12.3   aims to halve  food loss and waste by 2030.”Think.Eat.Save” campaign of UNEP , launched in 2014, in partnership with  FAO  is a public awareness raising campaign  to mobilise  global action  against food wastage  and against its adverse impact  on  environment , economy and society. This  campaign gives assistance to  businesses ,  local authorities and governments  for designing  effective food wastage prevention programmes.
One way to prevent food wastage is   through reuse. Where reuse is not possible , recycling and recovery  should be pursued .Dumping food in landfills  is a bad idea because  food thrown in landfills  is a large producer of Methane , a particularly harmful  Green House Gas. Instead ,  recycling , anaerobic digestion, composting  and incineration  with energy recovery  have significant advantage over dumping. In order for city and local  governments  to efficiently and effectively  recycle food  waste, it is essential to take actions  at the household level  to separate out food waste from the rest of the waste. Recycling  schemes work out only  when waste is properly sorted at the source. Suitable regulations in this regard  need to be framed and judiciously used.
   Rather than dumping waste in landfills, the use of anaerobic  digestion to break it down into digestate is preferable to both composting and landfill disposal .It gives both  fertilizer and biogas .When digestion is not possible , home composting represents the next best option .At the individual level ,  home composting can divert  up to 150 Kgm of food waste  per household per year from local collection authorities. Incineration  of food waste (with energy released   being recovered) is the option of last resort  for preventing food waste  from ending up in landfills.
                    Food wastage prevention programme  has to be  implemented and monitored both  at the level of businesses and households. Businesses  - both those operating  within the food chain as  well as those operating outside the food chain (which have  a large food print , like Cafeterias, for example) can conduct food waste audits  to determine  how they can improve  their performance in controlling food wastage. Households can also conduct relatively  simpler food waste audits.
 Better awareness and sensitization  in and among all participants in food chain  is of great importance .For example ,  when farmers do not find a market for products , they leave them to rot in field .This needs to to be changed. Families cook larger quantity of food  than actually required .They should be more precise   how many persons will eat food on a particular day. Supermarkets sometimes downsize orders to producers  at the last minute , leaving the producers with  large quantities of unsalable products. Restaurants over stocking  food by over-estimating demand .Food-retailers displaying very large quantities of food , believing it to contribute to increased sale , is a wasteful practice and needs to be discontinued .When  food item starts to approach the end of its shelf life , it is discarded , resulting in wastage .In short, food-retailing has to be environmentally-minded.
                       In a world where we have large population of starving , poor  human beings , where we are suffering from the environmental  challenges of pollution , lack of cleanliness, global warming and climate change , taking all possible steps at individual household level as well as at the level of local bodies and the state and central government  is the need of the hour.-(This article was published in the October 15,2016 issue of the magazine Tree Take , Lucknow , India.)