Too Much Wasted Food: The Impact of Food Waste on Our Environment

impact of food waste - apples rotting

We’re wasting tonnes of food. In the UK alone, we waste 7 million tonnes of edible food a year. 

It’s all too easy to ignore the rotten fruits and vegetables that line our bins. But the truth is, our actions cause a reaction. Wasting food has ethical and financial implications as well as causing enormous environmental issues.

There’s a vast number of people who struggle to afford food. But we keep throwing perfectly good food away, often discarding edible items due to a date meant only as a guide. 

In light of this growing food waste problem, let’s look at the impact of food waste on the environment and what we can do to reduce it.

Waste Not – Why Should We Not Waste Food? 

We know waste in general is an issue, but how exactly does food waste have such an effect on the environment? 

When we throw food away we’re not just wasting food. We’re also wasting the time and resources that went into producing it.

Ethically speaking, wasting food is hard to excuse. Especially when we live in a world where 800 million people are malnourished. 

Buy One Get One Free Label

Yet everywhere we shop, we’re encouraged to buy in excess. Half price offers and buy one get one free deals seem to convince us we need more.

With such an abundance of food at our fingertips it’s easy to see it as disposable. There’s 1 billion hungry people in the world. They could be fed on less than a quarter of the food wasted by the UK, the US and Europe combined. 

The impact of food waste has economic implications too. The cost of wasting food globally is thought to be $1 trillion. In the UK alone, home food waste is said to be worth £800 per household per year. This equates to £15 billion per year as a nation.

The environmental issues are considerable too. Food waste is a significant contributor to climate change. If food waste was measured as a country it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Environmental Foodie? The Impact of Food Waste on Our Environment

There are many environmental impacts caused by food waste. You may think these only occur once we’ve disposed of our food. But the scale of the problem originates much further back in the supply chain.

impact of food wastage - land use

Resource and Land Usage

Growing fresh produce consumes vital resources including water, fertiliser and land. 

For the 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted worldwide, we’re wasting 24% of the 70% of the world’s water used for agriculture. 

Land waste can be split into two categories. We can consider the land used to grow produce (or raise livestock). But when thinking about the reasons why we should not waste food, we also need to consider the land used to hold the waste. Landfill sites are already overflowing. 

Human Effort

The human effort that goes into the production, packaging, transport and storage of food also comes at a high cost. 

The time spent by individuals working in the fields, picking, packing, transporting and distributing food is wasted when we waste food. The money paid to these people and invested in running the day to day is also wasted. This leads to lower profitability for effort spent which squeezes margins and puts pressure on the financial stability of people working across the supply chain.

Fossil Fuels

Energy and fossil fuels used in the production and transportation of food also go to waste. Oils and fossil fuels are needed to produce, transport, store and cook food. 

Machinery is also used at every stage. From harvesting and transport vehicles to factory machinery that prepares, sorts and packs food for sale.

impact of food wastage - transport

Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Once food is dumped in landfill, it begins to rot. This emits the greenhouse gas methane.

Methane is a greenhouse gas. When released, it absorbs radiation. This radiation heats up the earth’s atmosphere, contributing to global warming and climate change. Methane is 21 times more harmful to the environment than CO2.

Fueling Our Future – Why We Should Avoid Wasting Food in Our Daily Lives

There’s been a lot of noise made about reducing unnecessary plastics. This has fueled the conversation about protecting our planet for generations to come. But plastic if far from the only culprit when it comes to negative impacts on the environment.

To reduce the impacts of food waste, changes also need to be made at every stage of the process. From the producers and farmers right through to the supermarkets and ultimately, us.

Like with any movement, the only practical way we can make a difference is by many people all making small changes. Although food waste occurs throughout all stages of the supply chain, 85% of it comes from our homes

The reasons for throwing food out in the UK are varied. 74% of people don’t write a shopping list before doing their weekly shop. 35% didn’t plan their meals and 24% didn’t know what they had at home before shopping.

The best start we can make is by planning and organising our meals ahead of time. 

We can be tempted by deals and offers, which trick us into thinking we’re getting our food cheaper by buying in bulk. But if we end up wasting that food, then we waste so much more than money. 

Buying locally from farm shops and greengrocers can also help. This allows us to buy what we need when we need it. A side benefit is we can also reduce packaging waste. Buying from farm shops or direct from producers at farmers’ markets shortens the supply chain which reduces the opportunity for waste.

vegetables at farmers market

Dealing With Surplus Food 

If you end up with food above and beyond your needs, there are some great organisations redistributing surplus food. They all turn food waste into something valuable.

For example, FareShare donate to the homeless. FoodCycle create tasty meals for the community. The Felix Project donate food to local kitchens, schools and community groups. 

Composting food waste at home can divert food waste from local landfill. It makes an incredible difference and only requires a small amount of your time to set up. 

It’s important to note that despite our best efforts we could still be wasting more than we realise. There’s always more we can do. You can help to make a positive impact on food waste by making small changes. Implementing new habits when shopping and planning meals will help. 

If we create new processes in our home then it will influence future generations. Passing these good habits onto the next generations will reduce food waste on a larger scale. What knowledge to pass on!