PUBLIC Speaking: Five Alarming Food Waste Facts

For one of life’s simple pleasures, food is rooted in an awfully complex industry. The United Nations estimates that each year one-third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. Rather than feeding some of the 795 million hungry people around the world, it ends up in landfills. And the implications of food waste aren’t only social–food waste is an economic drain and a threat to the planet’s very well-being. In Canada alone, $31 billion worth of food is wasted every year, which is equal to roughly 40% of the amount produced, while the greenhouses gases released by food in landfills and the significant natural resources needed to produce, manufacture and distribute food pose significant ecological risks. At PUBLIC, we’ve been thinking a lot about food waste recently. Here, five alarming facts that capture just how significant the food waste problem is in both Canada and around the globe.

47% of food waste in Canada occurs in households.
Consumers are responsible for just under half of the food wasted in Canada. Busy modern lives make it difficult to plan ahead when shopping for food–consumers often forget what’s already in the fridge at home and over-shop.

73% of Americans believe they waste less food than the national average.
Whether it’s keeping the fridge temperature too high, storing produce incorrectly or storing leftovers too long, it’s easy to adopt a passive attitude toward food waste rather than make a conscious effort to change wasteful habits.

Most Western nations waste nearly 10 times more food than less developed nations.
North Americans and Europeans waste approximately 95-115 kg of food per person per year–compared to the 6-11 kg of food waste per person per year in sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries.

Over 30% of fruits and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets because they aren’t “attractive enough”.
The anticipated consumer perceptions of food influence decisions along the whole supply chain. Farmers, processors, packagers and retailers assume shoppers will only buy foods that fulfill certain aesthetic standards. As such, almost a third of food is disposed of before it even has the chance to be purchased.

Food waste adds 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year.
If food waste was a country, only the USA and China would be responsible for releasing more total emissions. In a landfill with no oxygen, food waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide–food waste releases even more greenhouse gases than products with plastic packaging! Furthermore, the amount of water used to produce food that’s ultimately wasted is equivalent to three times the volume of Lake Geneva, and each year 28% of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce food that isn’t even eaten.

Luckily, there are simple and easy measures everyday consumers can take to help address the food waste problem. Families can be more realistic about what they’ll actually eat before going grocery shopping (hot tip: plan meals for the week and make a shopping list). Frequent trips to the market instead of one all-encompassing stop at the grocery store can also help reduce waste. Finally, surplus food can be given away: unneeded food stocks can be donated to charity and extra portions can be shared with neighbours and friends (81% of people would be happy to receive food from their neighbours–but only 13% actually give away their leftovers!).

Megan McClean is a Research Coordinator at PUBLIC Inc.

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