11 Mar ▷ How to reduce your food waste without giving up trying: 17 tips
Are you one of those who, like me, have not known hunger directly (attention! I mean in your own flesh)? You are a real lucky person! However, for many people (including a large number of children), this situation is part of everyday life. While this is happening, in other parts of the world we allow ourselves the luxury of wasting and wasting food (and many other things) without regard.
Reduce food waste it is not a matter of whim, fashion or rebellion, is a real need. If you still don't know what's behind food waste, stay and read it! It will only be a few minutes.
At the end of the article practical advice is provided so that you can reduce yourself this serious problem. But first let's contextualize and understand the theme.
- 1 What exactly is food waste?
- 2 Data to reflect on food waste
- 3 Does the same food waste occur in all food groups?
- 4 Is food waste the same in all countries?
- 5 Do we know the story behind each wasted food?
- 6 What is the real significance of food waste?
- 7 What can I do as a citizen against food waste?
- 8 Final conclusion on food waste
What exactly is food waste?
There is some confusion. You will usually hear: "waste", "loss", "inedible parts of food"... to address the same topic, although there are certain nuances:
- Food losses: refers to primary production (agriculture, fishing…), storage, transport and transformation. That loss derives from the actions of the food suppliers. Examples: unharvested fruit, caught fish that is discarded, inappropriate infrastructure that makes good conservation impossible, among others. 14% of the food produced worldwide is lost in these phases (FAO, 2019).
- Food waste: it alludes to what is wasted from retailers, service providers and consumers. And there we are. The current data is being developed by UNEP (United Nations Program for the Environment), but a food waste of 17% is calculated in these phases of the chain.
14% + 17% = 31%. That is, more or less, a third of what is produced. Absurd, don't you think?
Both losses and wasted food end up as general waste. They are provisions that do not fulfill their function, which is to feed:
- General waste including inedible parts: food or part of it that is not consumed, because it has been discarded at the beginning of the chain (loss) or at the end of it (waste), also considering non-edible parts, that is, bones, spines, certain viscera , etc.; highly variable, because what is considered edible in some cultures may not be in others.
Ahora bien, lo más habitual es encontrarse el término desperdicio alimentario para referirse al conjunto de residuos generados a lo largo de la cadena. Por tanto, y aunque ya conocéis la diferencia oficial, hablaremos de desperdicio alimentario de una manera general para referirnos a todo. Actualmente, los distintos países están transitando hacia una estandarización de conceptos, de formas de medición y de interpretación de datos para responder de manera homogénea a los indicadores de la meta 12.3 del SDG 12: Responsible production and consumption, de los Sustainable Development Goals.
Target 12.3 states:
"By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level and reduce food losses in production and distribution chains, including post-harvest losses."
Las razones del desperdicio alimentario son muy variopintas: infraestructuras deficientes, fallos técnicos, mala planificación, consumismo, inconsciencia, desconocimiento, despistes, falta de valorización de las cosas, cuestiones de estética (en serio, y con todos mis respetos, ¿quién sería el/la mentecat@ que decidió que un pimiento torcido era menos pimiento, que un aguacate con manchas merecía menos aprecio o que una manzana muy pequeña podría ser menos sabrosa?). Pues me gustaría que supieras que, debido a este tipo de estándares absurdos, muchas frutas y verduras son rechazadas cada día.
How much nonsense we have in our heads! The magic is in accepting imperfection.
Data to reflect on food waste
As we have just seen, 1/3 of the food that is produced ends up in the garbage. We are talking about tons and tons. As you read it! Excess production to end up throwing out food. And when food is wasted all the resources that were used in its production are undervalued: water, land, energy, labor, effort, seeds and other inputs. Doesn't that seem like a huge inconsistency?
At the same time, and going back to the issue of hunger, globally:
- Approximately, 10% of the population is in a situation of severe food insecurity, that is, undernourished or, in other words, starving.
- 6,7% of children under 5 years of age present acute malnutrition (low weight for height) and 22%, chronic malnutrition (delayed growth, physical and intellectual).
What is more, the discarded food rests in landfills, where releases greenhouse gases until its complete decomposition. Specifically, between 8 and 10% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-IPCC, 2012-2016).
But this is only part of the total impact of the current food system as a whole: it causes 26% of total emissions (in production, transformation, transport, conservation, packaging, etc.).
Therefore, you can imagine that this is not only about inconsistencies, ethics and social injustice, but also about the environment and pollution (a clearly avoidable pollution). Food waste is a major contributor to climate change.
Does the same food waste occur in all food groups?
No, each food group represents a specific loss with respect to the total food waste. The most affected are vegetables, fruits and cereals.
Own elaboration from: Your diet can save the planet (Sanchez A, 2021).
However, if we analyze the amount of waste of each food group with respect to its own production, the data changes slightly. That is, of all the fruits and vegetables produced, how much is lost and wasted? Of all the fish caught, how much is thrown away? Of all the oil crops generated, how much is wasted? Etcetera etcetera. These questions are answered by the following graph:
Own elaboration from: Your diet can save the planet (Sanchez A, 2021).
It is appreciated that of total fish caught, is lost and wasted, in some of the phases of the chain, half. And from the group of fruits and vegetables, almost half. Don't you think it's scandalous given the current situation of malnutrition in the world?
Is food waste the same in all countries?
Broadly speaking, the answer would be no. It can vary greatly based on many factors. Until now, it was concluded that, in impoverished countries, unwanted losses occurred due to basic circumstances, due to the lack of structures, logistics, training, among others, that is, losses at the level of the first links in the chain ( production, transport and storage). And in high-income countries, avoidable food waste, through better preparation practices and acquisition of good habits, especially in the last stages of the chain (retail, services and households).
However, in the report Food Waste Index Report 2021 from United Nationes Environment Programme, is reflected that food waste in homes is being globally high, regardless of the wealth of a country (it refers to the general average of the country since it is understood that a family that has nothing to eat will surely not waste a single grain of rice). We see that, although the basic problems between countries are different, at the level of some households the behavior is reprehensible and should be redirected.
Do we know the story behind each wasted food?
As with people behind each dish there is a long story, which is often of little interest, since what prevails is to satisfy the need of the moment. But when we stop to analyze where what we eat comes from, we discover that tuna does not grow in cans nor is cooked ham born in a plastic container. And then the story gets complicated...
Sometimes unaware of its trajectory, how it got here and what was necessary to make it, we buy without control, we throw without hesitation, we complain about the pain in our pockets and we even feel sorry for those who do not have, but, unfortunately, we perpetuate the same acts every day.
"It got rotten without me realizing it", "I forgot to put it in the fridge", "I forgot to freeze it", "I miscalculated", "I bought too much", "I thought I needed it...", "I got a craving ”, “I was hungry when I bought”, “I took it just in case…”, “there was a discount 2×1”, “it was so cheap…” are just some of our star sentences to excuse ourselves and continue in the same dynamic.
What is the real significance of food waste?
Food waste goes beyond the simple act of putting something in the trash. Not just food is wasted. This is the work of farmers, their effort, time and dedication. It is also about the natural resources that the earth offers us (by the way, free and without asking for compensation).
It's about consideration and respect for the food itself (difficult to appreciate its value if we have never been lacking, I include myself in the bag). It is, lastly, about ethics and solidarity with people who cannot access them.
Conclusion: we are ungrateful without even realizing it since we are unaware of this whole process. But if you are still there, you are already a little more aware than a few minutes ago, although less than in a few if you continue reading 🙃.
The resources used in food production should not end up in landfills but on plates to feed the population. After all, that's what they were designed for. Therefore, let us act with coherence and remember that, decrease this nonsense of Food waste has an economic, environmental and social benefit. And on a personal level, believe it or not, you will feel a difference.
What can I do as a citizen against food waste?
A lot of things!
But without stressing yourself, because you don't have to do everything at once, but rather little by little integrate the actions that best fit in your daily life, without it being a big disturbance.
Activities in favor of zero food waste:
1. Eat mindfully (and not like parrots). It may not seem like it is directly related, but it is. Learn to value food, review your relationship with it, find out about its production and composition, but without obsessions. For a moment, reflect, what would you do if you didn't have food every day?
2. Plan weekly. Defeat the seventh deadly sin, sloth. It won't take more than 15 minutes to think a little over what you could cook and eat throughout the week. Without going crazy, without following accurately, but have an idea so you don't get home and eat the first thing you find in the fridge. This action and the previous one also favor your health and well-being.
3. Prepare a list before going shopping to buy only what is necessary. It's good for the planet and for your pocket. It does not mean that you cannot have foods in the pantry that make your life easier, those that are highly durable. We all like to have a plan B for any circumstance, but it's about buying wisely.
4. Pay attention to 2×1 with upcoming dates. Sometimes it can be useful if we just need this product. For example, you celebrate a birthday and there is a 2×1 slice of bread. You could make numerous sandwiches. Go ahead! You will consume it right away and save some money. Otherwise, it is possible that one of the packages ends up moldy. The 2×1 or the famous 3×2, is sometimes a "trap". At the beginning seems like an offer, but it can be a pure marketing strategy. Be observant and analyze your real need.
5. Choose fruits and vegetables considered "ugly" (attention, I'm not saying rotten); I am referring to those that, due to their shape, color or size, are usually set aside, but are nutritious and tasty (crooked carrots, deformed lemons, double peppers...).
6. Difference between expiration date and preferential consumption. Sometimes when we see an expired date, we throw away a product due to misinformation. The expiration date is found on highly perishable foods (meat, fish, fresh milk, etc.). After the deadline, their innocuousness is not guaranteed. The date of preferential consumption is exposed in foods that, normally, are not dangerous. Its organoleptic characteristics may not remain intact after the date, but as long as they have been properly preserved, there is no risk to health (yoghurt, sliced bread...).
7. Order food properly in the fridge and pantry. Sometimes, we store food thoughtlessly, without reviewing previous one. Use the criteria FIFO (first in first out).
8. Give or share. For example, if you go on holidays and you have food in the fridge that cannot be frozen, distribute it among your neighbors, relatives, friends or people who need it.
9. Freeze. In addition to the convenience it offers, you will lengthen food shelf life.
10. Be clever with leftovers. You can do a thousand miracles! Be imaginative and willing!
11. Avoid portions larger than you can eat. Although this does not depend on us but on the policy of the catering service (bar, restaurant, etc.), if you know in advance that you are not going to eat that amount, nor are you going to order it to go, it's okay to indicate that you want the portion to be smaller and according to your appetite.
12. Ask for leftovers at the restaurant (what is known as doggy bag). Without any shame. What we should be ashamed of is leaving half a plate on the table and it ends up in the trash.
13. Serve smaller portion sizes at home, you can always repeat!
14. Keep sense in lunches with fellows. The typical scene of a row of half-eaten dishes will sound familiar to you. It's so easy to get excited! (especially with a few beers). But it is just as easy to think ahead considering the people and the appetite present. It has always surprised me that people order like crazy, as if the kitchen was closed forever and it would not be possible to order again, as if it had to be, now or never.
15. Be part of projects with purpose. In this regard, I collaborate with the company Equal Food. It puts the farmers in the area in contact with the final consumer, saving a large amount of food that would unfairly end up in the garbage. Without intermediaries, a fair price is favored for farmers and customers. Amazing! I invite you to look in your city, surely there are alternatives like this. Another interesting project is Too good to go, which puts establishments and citizens in contact to save food every day.
16. If you get the chance, compost. There are several ways: separating the organic matter at home and then taking it to the brown container (available in some autonomous communities in Spain) or (this is already more profissional) composting yourself, if you have the will, space and a composter.
17. Infórmate, cambia hábitos erróneos (to the extent of your possibilities), contribute to raise awareness among others and thinks coherently. We consumers have great power with our daily choices. Many decisions depend on our purchases throughout the food chain of production. Your actions can make a difference!
But...although we have part of the responsibility, not all the weight should fall on us. It is a joint work between the different actors in the chain: farmers, ranchers, fishermen, producers, store owners, collective catering managers, distributors, consumers, and of course, the policy makers, that is, the governments. Currently, it is being processed First Spanish Food Loss and Waste Prevention Law, which will implement specific measures along the different links in the chain. Luckily, a little common sense emerges in the midst of so much madness.
Final conclusion on food waste
As citizens of the world we have certain moral obligations. The fact of disregard, underestimate or discard what is needed elsewhere it's a terrible act of thoughtlessness. Although it is difficult to see the relationship, or we do not know it, what we do in one part of the world has a direct impact on another.
As for this and other changes, there will always be someone who will tell you: "you want to complicate yourself, you alone are not going to get anything by doing this or that...".
For me the answer is clear:
It's not what I get, but what many of us get. The way I live does not intend to question the actions of anyone. If you live aligned, having your values clear, thinking, feeling and acting according to them, it is difficult to feel demoralized by the comments of others.
For me, being an accomplice of realities that I reject is contributing to them and when you want fight against certain socially accepted situations (although incorrect), the best way to do it is coming out of them.
I finish with a phrase that someone once said. By the way, it is the most eloquent thing I've heard lately:
“¡Qué no pase ni un solo día sin cuestionar lo establecido!”
If you found it interesting, share it! 🙃
If you wish to cite this article in your academic works:
Martín-Rubio, L. How to reduce your food waste without succumbing to the attempt: 17 tips. Zero Hunger and Nutrition website [Internet]. 2022 [consulted day/month/year]. Available on: https://nutricionyhambrecero.com/seguridad-inseguridad-alimentaria/
Teacher, Specialist in International Health, Cooperation and Communication in Health, Dietician-Nutritionist and Consultant/Auditor of Food Quality.