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Food and sustainability

Careful shopping and a well-ordered pantry to combat food waste

In the wealthiest countries, food waste is particularly serious among consumers who end up throwing away up to 40% of the food they buy, with negative effects for both the environment and their wallets.

Our grandmothers always used to say, “do not waste”, and yet even now, household food loss is having a significant impact on national economies, especially in high income countries, with a substantial influence on environmental sustainability. According to data from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), food waste increased by 4.4% between 2012 and 2015, which amounts to 7.3 million tonnes of food lost. The situation is just as bad further afield, as highlighted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where over 38 million tonnes of food were thrown away in 2014 alone. Also, a careful analysis of the data in the Food sustainability index developed by the BCFN in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit, sheds light on the worrying situation in terms of food waste and environmental sustainability. Even France, first in the ranking when it comes to recovering food at the distribution level (stores and supermarkets), scores poorly in terms of the amount of food the end consumer throws away, even trailing behind Saudi Arabia, which comes last in the overall ranking taking all aspects of environmental sustainability into account. 


Do not waste: everyone can benefit

There are many ideas and initiatives on how to reduce food loss: just a few examples are the LoveFoodHateWaste project in the UK or the recommendations of the US Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) which devotes a large section of its own website to the issue of food waste. 


The environment is undoubtedly one of the main beneficiaries of a reduction in food waste: if we decrease the amount of waste which goes to landfills and incinerators, we also reduce methane emissions and can therefore shrink our own carbon footprint – one of the three ‘footprints’ which our food choices leave on the environment, as described in the latest edition of Eating Planet. If we do not waste edible food, we can also save energy and resources which are normally used in the supply chain from the field to the kitchen table, as well as giving a helping hand to our own communities, perhaps donating surplus food to those in need. And as if all that isn’t enough, then just think about the cost: the food thrown away into landfill every year in the UK amounts to £700 (just under €800) per family.

Advice for preventing waste

So what can we do to reduce household food loss? First of all, experts suggest paying great care and attention when filling up your shopping trolley and recommend only going to the supermarket after making a detailed list of what you really need. “When making your shopping list, it is important to have a clear idea of how many meals you will eat at home and what you plan to cook, so that you don’t buy too much food”, explains the EPA, which also suggests carefully checking what you already have in the cupboard to prevent you buying two of the same thing. The second key area for cutting down on waste is correct food storage: a well-ordered pantry avoids food being tucked away in corners and forgotten about, while sticking to the storage instructions allows you to keep food fresh and edible for longer. 

The website savefood.com, associated with the NRDC, looks at the issue in more detail, providing useful advice on how best to store various types of food, as well as how to cook them and how to reduce waste in general. Finally, don’t forget about leftovers, which you can freeze or, if they really are no longer edible, they can be used as fertilisers for gardens and vegetable patches.


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