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World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions & cut emissions

by Rebecca Smithers

About 40% of the world's food is thrown away -- £388bn worth yearly by 2030. Reducing that would save the global economy over £190bn while significantly reducing carbon emissions.

    Food is Energy: up to 2bn tonnes of it, produced worlwide, never gets to a plate 

About one third of all the food produced in the world ends up as waste every year, engineers warned in a recent report from the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). The report blames the "staggering" new figures in its analysis on unnecessarily strict sell-by dates and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with poor engineering and agricultural practices.

Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, found that between 30% and 50% or 1.2-2bn tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate. In the UK as much as 30% of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers' exacting standards on physical appearance,  while up to half of the food bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers.

About 550bn cubic metres of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer. Carnivorous diets add extra pressure as it takes 20-50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilogramme of meat than 1kg of vegetables; the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050. This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today and could lead to more dangerous water shortages around the world. There is the potential to provide 60-100% more food by eliminating losses and waste while at the same time freeing up land, energy and water resources.

Governments across the world should make reducing food waste an urgent priority in order to save as much as £194bn annually by 2030, according to a new 2015 report. Cutting food waste leads to greater efficiency, more productivity and higher economic growth, but achieving such an aspiration would involve consumers halving their own food and drink waste.

One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, with food wasted by consumers globally valued at more than £259bn per year. But that cost could soar to £388bn as the global middle class expands over the course of the next fifteen years, according to new figures from the UK government’s waste advisory body Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. 

Their new report, Strategies to achieve economic and environmental gains by reducing food waste, identifies significant opportunities to improve economic performance and tackle climate change by reducing the amount of food that is wasted at various stages in the supply chain - in agriculture, transport, storage and consumption. It highlights how practical changes, such as lowering the average temperatures of refrigerators or designing better packaging, can make a big difference in preventing spoilage. Approximately 25% of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment.

In the UK, the most recent data from Wrap shows that the majority of food waste occurs in the home. Households throw away seven million tonnes of food waste annually, enough to fill London’s Wembley Stadium nine times over. This avoidable household food waste is associated with 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Reducing food waste worldwide can make a significant contribution to tackling climate change. The report found waste is responsible for around 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, 3.3bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) a year. Emissions from food waste could be cut by as much as 1 billion tonnes CO2e per year. Helen Mountford, global programme director for the New Climate Economy, a programme of the commission, concludes:

“Reducing food waste is good for the economy and good for the climate. Less food waste means greater efficiency, more productivity, and direct savings for consumers. It also means more food to feed the estimated 805 million that go to bed hungry each day. Reducing food waste is a great way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These findings should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers around the world.”

◊ Publ. here 3.3.2015


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