The problems with food waste

Food waste is a bigger problem than you think it is. Many of us will remember being told by our parents not to leave food on our plate. We were often guilted into finishing our food because there were ‘children starving in Africa’. Although the sentiment was right, the problem with food wastage is a little more complex.

In a world with unbalanced economies, we deal with both obesity and malnutrition simultaneously. Problems are not necessarily with the consumption of food, rather with the distribution of food. By wasting food you remove it from the collective marketplace. This pushes the price up and makes it expensive for others. Overnutrition at one end of the world causes undernutrition at the other.

The WWF says that around 30% of our UK carbon emissions are a direct result of food production. Consumer behaviour also has a part to play. The average corporate kitchen will throw away around 17% of their food across an entire year. Some of this will be unavoidable waste such as banana peels and tea bags, but much more will be the avoidable waste that invariably will end up in the bin.

Much of our food wastage comes through customers ordering too much food. As there is a limited market for leftovers, a large percentage of food waste gets scraped into the bin at the end of the evening. Restaurants should be actively encouraging customers to take away leftovers in ‘doggy bags’ to consume at home. Whilst this is socially acceptable in some sections of society there is more that needs to be done to make this the norm.

Hotels and corporate businesses have their part to play too. Many corporate events over order the amount of food that they require for an event. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and turnout is lower than expected, but contingency planning should be in place to redistribute any extraneous food. There could and should be calls for more accountability of organisations that cause routine and unnecessary waste.

In Bristol, most food waste goes into brown bins and is sent for composting. Is this true of where you live and work? Ask your local authority what happens to food waste. Be a responsible consumer and request that they become responsible waste managers too.

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