Food waste imposes significant global economic, social and natural resource costs. One-third of food produced for consumption is currently lost or wasted, where over one billion people are undernourished and around 800 million go to bed hungry. Food waste amounts to 1.6 billion tonnes per year, costing the world $940 Billion. A report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), estimates that “by 2030 annual food loss and waste will hit 2.1 billion tons worth USD 1.5 trillion“.
Food Waste has major environmental impacts. The amount of cropland used to grow wasted food is 198 million hectares per year, about the size of Mexico. Total water consumption associated with food waste is 173 billion cubic meters which amount to 24% of the total water used for crop production, The Green House Gas (GHG) emissions (CO2eq) from food waste is around 3,300-5,600 million metric tons, 8% of annual GHG emissions.
The FAO states that “If food loss and waste were a country it would be the 3 highest emitter of GHG after the US and China.” These numbers speak for itself, that without addressing the issue of food waste no country will be able to meet its target set under the Paris Agreement—to restrict the increase in global temperature below two degrees.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), annually, India waste 40% of the food it produces, which is the same as the population of the United Kingdom consumes. Approximately, 45% of India’s land is degraded primarily due to deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and excessive groundwater extraction to meet the food demand. Also, 300 million barrels of oil are used to produce food that is ultimately wasted. Food, when disposed of in a landfill, rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a gas that is 21 times more harmful than CO2 and this leads to us leaving a carbon footprint bigger than most countries.
As the food demand grows with the rising population and increasing per-capita income, reducing food waste will also have distributive effects on hunger and nutrition. Accelerated action can also help meet several Sustainable Development Goals by 2030–to end hunger, achieve food security, and improved nutrition (SDG2), ensure universal access to sustainably managed water (SDG6), combat climate change (SDG13) and SDG 12 which is to achieve responsible production and consumption.
With such an overwhelming case for action, there has been little effort to create awareness or to mainstream food waste as an agenda for climate change. This issue is a very similar case study as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, an issue that is caused by people themselves in their daily lives, who are not aware of the consequences it would have on our environment.
Considering the amount of food wasted in extravagant Indian weddings, large hotel buffets, and at the household level, it is necessary for the government and potential communities to address the issue of food waste through an awareness campaign.
During my personal experience researching food loss and waste in the state of UP and Bihar, I realised that it’s not the poor household generating waste but households with more purchasing power. The solution for household waste isn’t rocket science. It does not have to be policy-driven. Here, the right question to ask would be why it’s so difficult to hold ourselves accountable for that half-eaten apple that generates methane at some landfill? Can we not create awareness in our surroundings, starting at our own homes?