We are currently in the midst of a global environmental push, with major greenhouse contributing countries such as China pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060, and top 10 contributing companies such as Shell making the move towards renewable energy. The world is finally taking some steps in the right direction. But how can we play our part? And how can we start reducing our contribution today?
Simply put, one of the easiest and most powerful things you can do to reduce your climate impact is to reduce your food waste.
Currently, it is estimated that we waste around one-third or 30% of all food that is produced on the planet (1). That doesn’t sound too bad right? Well, let's paint a picture to see what this really looks like (bear with me there are going to be some numbers).
Globally, 50% of all habitable land is used for agricultural purposes. From this agricultural land, 77% is used for meat and dairy and the remaining 23% is used for crops, together they total a whopping 51 million square km (2). Let’s do the math, if 30% of all the food we grow is wasted, that means 15.3 million square Kms are used just to grow food just to throw away, which equates to a landmass larger than China dedicated to wasted food (3).
So what are we wasting?
- Land cleared and deforested to make way for agricultural land
- Loss of carbon sinks (trees) and biodiversity to make way for agricultural land
- Clean water is taken out of rivers to water crops
- Herbicides and pesticides sprayed on crops with runoff consequences to local environments
- Transportation and farm machinery emissions
- Methane gases (a greenhouse gas with 20 to 25 times more potent warming potential than carbon dioxide) being released from cattle and livestock
- Energy for pumps, refrigeration, and heating of greenhouses
To reiterate, all of this is taking place on a landmass the size of China just to throw away.
So what happens to wasted food after we throw it away?
When your broccoli looks a little too floppy or your milk develops a solid green layer on top, they inevitably end up in landfills. Waste in landfills gets buried deep under all the other junk there, from grandma’s cleared out hoarding, to the baby hand-me-down clothes that just couldn’t be handed down one more time. Here buried deep under all of that junk our food waste begins to break down. So what, food breaking down is natural right? Correct. However when our caveman ancestors threw away a half-eaten fig, it sat on the surface of our planet where it interacted with earth's atmosphere, there it broke down naturally in the presence of oxygen. That or a wild boar came along and ate it before defecating it out, but that is just the same process with an extra step in the middle. The problem with food breaking down while buried deep underneath junk is that it doesn’t have the interaction with the air that our ancestors waste did and it breaks down without available oxygen - this is an anaerobic breakdown cycle. Anaerobic breakdown process’ forms a significant amount of methane which eventually seeps through the rubbish and is leaked into our atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide - carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas our ancestor’s figs produced when they broke down aerobically with oxygen.
This is a total double whammy. For one, we are contributing to the production of unnecessary emissions, deforestation and chemical pollution. Then, to make matters worse, how our food waste decays is producing a gas 25 times more harmful than the gases produced by driving your car. Boom, cop that earth!
But we can do our part, simply by reducing our waste. When I first learned this I thought, “yeah that may be most people but I don’t waste much food”, well, turns out I was quite surprised when I started to pay close attention.
So how can we reduce our waste? What can we do?
- Compost. Composting if done correctly can break down food aerobically. Essentially, the more you turn and the more air you can expose, the better. While not all of us have heaving compost piles in our backyard (or a yard for that matter), what most of us do have is a green bin that we put on the nature strip every fortnight. Depending on your council, this bin may be used for all food scraps along with garden organics, and is taken to a facility which turns it to compost. Please check online or phone your local council to see what options they have available for you.
- Check what you still have in the fridge before you go shopping. We are all guilty of doubling up from time to time. Make it a routine to check what is in the fridge before you head to the shops and try getting creative with the fresh food you have left to reduce your waste as much as possible.
- Freeze items that are getting close to use-by dates
- Try growing your herbs. Not only do herbs tend to come in single use plastic, they also don't stay fresh for very long. The great news is you can grow herbs quite easily at home without taking up much space.
- Take home leftovers. When eating out, doggy bag it. 55% of leftovers aren’t taken home (4). Take home your left overs for a feed the next day as well, it's a double win.
These are just a few simple ways we can reduce our waste, if you have any other ideas we’d love to hear more. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may share your amazing ideas via Instagram.
The Sequela Team
- Lyons, K., Swann, G., & Levett, C. (2021). Produced but never eaten: a visual guide to food waste. Retrieved 14 January 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/aug/12/produced-but-never-eaten-a-visual-guide-to-food-waste
- Ritchie, H. (2019). Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. Retrieved 14 January 2021, from https://ourworldindata.org/global-land-for-agriculture
- Countries Compared by Geography > Area > Total. International Statistics at NationMaster.com. (2021). Retrieved 14 January 2021, from https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Geography/Area/Total
- Black, J. (2018). What we lose when food goes to waste. Retrieved 14 January 2021, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/fall-2018/articles/preventing-food-waste