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Food and sustainability

The importance of education in preventing food waste

In the agri-food system, many different components contribute to farmed products being wasted. But in wealthy nations, the main responsibility for these losses falls at the end of the food chain: in shops, canteens and homes.

Nearly a third of all food produced around the globe is wasted. It may be discarded in the growing, harvesting or preservation phases, as happens in poorer countries, or it may be thrown out, as especially happens in richer countries, by inattentive consumers and shop owners who don’t keep the still-edible surplus. This enormous quantity of food (nearly 1.3 billion tonnes per year according to WWF estimates) is four times that needed to feed the 800 million people currently living in a state of malnutrition. Then we mustn’t forget that wasted food has an impact on the environment in all phases of its lifecycle, each of which leaves a deep environmental “footprint” in terms of water, soil and greenhouse gas emissions. ReFED, an American coalition working to stop food waste, estimates that cutting discarded food in the United States by 20% could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 million tonnes in ten years.

Still too much food in the waste bin
But who is to blame for all this waste? In industrialised countries, the culprits are to be found in the final rings of the food chain, which includes consumers. As stated in Fixing Food, a report produced by the BCFN in collaboration with the experts at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), each year in the United States, 46 million tonnes of food end up being thrown away. 40% of this waste comes from the homes of end consumers. Put another way, in 2012, an average family of four threw away 2 million calories, the equivalent of about 1,500 dollars. Among the other causes, we mustn’t forget the policies of a few retailers which use tempting offers to promote the purchase of large quantities of food, which is often difficult to consume before it goes bad.

Changing the world, one meal at a time
Eight out of ten Americans (80%) feel guilty when they throw food away, but 42% say they don’t have enough time to really worry about the problem. Yet reducing waste would be a victory for all: for consumers and retailers who would save money, for the environment which would benefit from a reduction in greenhouse gases, and for poorer populations who would receive the saved resources. Thus we need effective efforts to educate consumers and campaigns which are able to sensitize public opinion on this important theme. After working extensively with food product retailers and getting significant results, the English organisation WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program) launched the Love Food Hate Waste educational campaign in 2007. Its goal is simple, but quite ambitious: increase awareness about the need to reduce food waste and provide practical advice to be applied in people’s daily lives.

Good examples, but still limited
“We need complex solutions, as well as those which are cultural and specific to each location”, explained Richard Swannell, Development Director for WRAP’s sustainable food programmes. Positive examples aren’t lacking and, even if they currently aren’t the norm, they can certainly be a source of inspiration. In South Korea for example, families and businesses were asked to pay for wasted food, which increased the recycled food rate from 2% in 1995 to 95% in 2009. France, the most virtuous country in terms of food waste according to the BCFN-EIU Food Sustainability Index, launched a few educational campaigns which begin in a child’s first few years at school. In doing so, through the joint intervention of politics, businesses and individuals, it made up for the country’s previous lack of progress in this sector. Rounding out such efforts are campaigns to better explain how to read labels, how to store food once it’s purchased, how to re-use leftovers, and so much more.
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