The culture we live in has made it easy to throw food away, without so much of an after-thought
Wasted food equates to wasted resources required to grow, harvest and transport the produce from farm to plate – though a large proportion of it gets wasted before ever reaching the latter.
While all wasted food is a tragedy, it gets even worse when we consider that the industry is highly resource intensive – indeed the food industry is one of the most energy intensive, with large industrial scale farming and mono-cropping being largely responsible.
Tonnes of CO2 are emitted, countless liters of water are wasted and hectares of land are destroyed to grow food that never ends up being consumed.
Worse, most food waste ends up in landfill where it will, in turn, contribute to emitting greenhouses gases. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated in 2013 that food waste is the “largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions after the US and China”.
The food value chain
Along with the environmental impacts of food waste, there is of course the social side too. Food is wasted at the same time hundreds of millions of people in the world go hungry every day – most in developing countries.
But food poverty, defined as the “inability of individuals and households to obtain an adequate and nutritious diet” is not only a developing country issue.
It’s estimated that eight million people in the UK are affected by food poverty and the number has risen in recent years. In reality, we already grow enough food to feed everyone in the planet – we just have an inefficient system that doesn’t distribute it equally and that wastes a third of everything produced.
Food is wasted for all sorts of reasons – and those will vary depending on where in the food value chain the food waste occurs.
On the farm level, produce may be discarded for aesthetic specifications such as being too big, too small, too wonky, too “ugly”, too abundant or damaged by unpredictable weather events.
Further down the supply chain, food is also be discarded for aesthetic reasons or for being too ripe for that stage of the chain – produce needs to have a certain shelf-life to keep going down the steps that will lead it to end up in your household.
A banana that is spotty at the warehouse will not be able to survive long enough on a supermarket shelf where the expectation is that it should be perfectly yellow.
At home, we waste food because we’ve bought too much of it, because it’s gone off or because simply because we’ve changed our mind.
Conscious of our impact
All of these reasons are underpinned by the fact that we’ve stopped valuing food for what it really is as a society. Just two generations ago, our grand-parents were rationing food and using every last bit.
Today, the price of food has become so low and the perceived abundance of it means there is no real reason to treat it as something precious or worth saving. The culture we live in has made it easy to throw food away, without so much of an after-thought.
However, in this ever expanding ‘throw away’ culture there are people who are becoming increasingly conscious of our impact on the environment and what simple changes can be done harmoniously to create the greatest change.
There are various initiatives working on the supply chain to reduce the level of waste. One of these campaigns has been launched by Snact, an ethical snack company I co-founded.
Cutting edge home-compostable packaging
Following the success of our fruit jerky; last month we launched a #deliciousprotest crowdfunding campaign aimed at saving some of the 1.4 million bananas thrown away each day in the UK.
Having raised more than £11,000, we will now be working with producers and retailers to collect their unwanted, wonky or slightly imperfect produce and produce a range delicious fruit bars.
We hope to improve these supply chain by creating a business model which can grow and see the amount of food waste reduced.
For Snact, helping to save the environment isn’t just about what’s in the food we create but also in the packing we use, so just like our fruit jerky, our new range of banana bars will be wrapped in cutting edge home-compostable packaging, helping to ensure less packaging goes to land fill too.
Ilana Taub is one of the two co-founders of Snact, a sustainable snack brand tackling food and packaging waste. She was named London Leader by the Mayor of London Sustainable Development Commission. She previously worked in several sustainability related roles, notably in finance. To learn more about Snact and its #deliciousprotest, visit www.snact.co.uk.