Do you know that every year around a third of food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost globally?

In the European Union, for example, around 88 million tons of food waste are wasted per year at a cost of around 143 billion euros and in the United States of America 40% of its food is wasted.

It's true, food waste is a current problem that has received attention from organizations, governments and various people who advocate a life with less waste and more health on our planet.

But what is food waste? What are its consequences? How can we reduce it and even avoid it completely? Find out the answer to all these questions in this article.

What is food waste?

The concept of food waste is considered imprecise as it can be difficult to distinguish. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) , the generation of food waste can differentiate between food loss and food waste. But what is the difference between the two?

  • Food loss: occurs when food is produced for human consumption but is not eaten by people because it is lost in production stages such as harvesting, storage or transport. For example, it can be caused when there are inefficiencies along the supply chain, such as inadequate infrastructure and technology or lack of access to markets.
  • Food waste: occurs when food is intended for human consumption but ends up being discarded or left in situations where it is spoiled by consumers and consumption establishments. For example, this waste can happen when a product does not meet certain aesthetic criteria for the consumer or seller. In the European Union, legislation governing the size and shape of fruits and vegetables ceased to exist in 2009.

Where does food loss and waste exist?

According to Foodprint , a project of the GRACE Communications Foundation, which is an entity that develops solutions to problems related to food, the environment and public health in conjunction with other organizations and universities in the United States of America, food loss and waste have various origins.

Food loss: can happen at various points in the food chain, for example, on farms, fishing boats, in factories and in transport and distribution networks.

Food waste: is likely to exist in retail companies, restaurants, institutions and in people's homes.

Food loss and waste in the world

There are differences between the contexts in which food losses and waste occur. That is, differences are noted throughout the phases of the food supply chain in developed and developing countries.

According to the FAO, food loss is as high in developed countries as in developing countries, although the phases in which this loss occurs are different (see image 1). Food waste occurs mostly in developed countries.

Food loss and waste at stages of the food supply chain in developed and developing countries

Image 1: Food loss and waste at stages of the food supply chain in developed and developing countries

But… and what are the consequences of this food waste?

This current problem, according to FAO, has several negative consequences for the world at various levels: ethical and social, environmental and economic.

  • This food waste clearly contrasts with a reality that also exists in many families: food deprivation. The European Commission reports that around 33 million people in the European Union cannot afford a meal every two days;
  • At an economic level, the problem can be twofold: the fact that there is population growth predicts that demand will be greater than supply, leading to an increase in product prices and purchasing inequality between people. This forecast leads to greater production, creating an unsustainable food system;
  • At an environmental level, food production is one of the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions, from its production through industrialized agriculture, through marketing and transport and ending with placement in landfills where it remains to rot. According to the European Commission, food waste generates around 8% of these emissions globally. In addition, there is an impact on natural resources in food production, such as water, necessary for irrigation, soil, essential for planting, and fuels that allow transportation.

In the following graph we can see that food is responsible for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Agriculture uses about 70% of water for production and causes 78% of ocean and freshwater pollution.

Environmental impact of food and agriculture

How can you reduce or completely eliminate waste in your life? We have 6 tips!

After seeing all this data, we believe that you are even more eager to eliminate food waste from your life. Therefore, we give you some tips to achieve this!

Plan your meals

You can make a weekly meal list so that you can have a better idea of ​​the products you will need to cook. Also write down the necessary quantities of each product according to the number of meals you are going to have (for example: cabbage - 2 dinners).

Don't forget to check what you already have at home before you go shopping. So, when you go to a grocery store or supermarket, you only buy what you really need (an important tip: buy in bulk), saving money and having fresh food in your daily diet. And remember: it's good to buy ugly vegetables and fruits! 😊

For those who have no ideas for planning meals, Catarina Barreiros offers a helping hand and created Excel do Zero : a shopping planning tool to help reduce food waste.

Check the validity

Some foods, due to their composition, can spoil more easily, so it is important to take the expiration date into account to understand the longevity of the product you are going to buy.

At home, when tidying up, you should also place products whose expiry date ends early so that they can be used first.

Yes, conserve!

Conservation depends on each food and, therefore, Catarina Barreiros shows what we can do with various foods: tomatoes, parsley and coriander, peppers, spinach, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, leeks, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, eggs, milk and cheese, melon and watermelon, bananas, apples and pears, red fruits, onions, potatoes, garlic and pumpkin.

Some fruits and vegetables should be in cool places, in the appropriate compartments, so that they do not spoil so easily. Some fruits, such as bananas and apples, release ethylene – a gas responsible for their ripening – so it is important to separate them from other products.

Save more!

With leftovers from some meals or foods you can invent and create a new favorite dish! If it's safe and healthy, you can even use the parts of some foods you don't eat (such as vegetable peels) to make vegetable broth. In addition, there are several ways to reuse food:

How to preserve different foods

When you go to a restaurant do you leave food on your plate? If so, take it home and eat later! This way, you also avoid waste in these establishments.

Against food waste, for the planet

In Portugal, as a way to eliminate this global problem, there are associations that work to avoid this waste throughout the supply chain and also feed those who need it most. Here are some ways you can make a difference:

  • Re-food: “Eliminate food waste and hunger, involving the entire community in a common cause.”
  • Zero Waste: “DARIACORDAR’s ZERO DESPERDÍCIO’s main objective is to reduce the generation of waste.”
  • Fruta Feia: “This project aims to combat market inefficiency, creating an alternative market for “ugly” fruit and vegetables that can change consumption patterns. A market that generates value for farmers and consumers and combats both food waste and unnecessary waste of resources used in its production.”
  • GoodAfter: “online supermarket dedicated to the sale of products that are close to the end of the preferential consumption period, or even beyond that period.”

Useful APPS: Eliminate food waste with the help of one click

With the amount of daily information and all the daily tasks there is not always the availability to search and read content on the topics we want. Therefore, there are apps that help you on this path:

  • Waste App: is developed by QUERCUS and “arises from the need to inform citizens of the destinations of various waste that cannot be placed in recycling bins.”
  • Share Waste: allows you to find people near our region who have or accept waste for composting
  • To Good To Go: “At Too Good To Go we dream of a planet without food waste and, every day, we work hard to make this dream come true. Our app is the most direct way to get involved: download, register and buy great food that would otherwise be wasted in establishments near you.”
  • Phenix: “Phenix connects those who have too much with those who don't have enough. In this way, we give a responsible and supportive second life to surpluses, completing the cycle!”

Are you already avoiding food waste in your home? Share your ideas with us.

Author: Daniela Matos