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Food waste: causes, consequences and how to avoid it
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Food waste: causes, consequences and how to avoid it

From the production phase to our homes and how we can reduce it


Food waste means the amount of food produced for human consumption that has not deteriorated or expired, which is lost, therefore wasted, throughout the food supply chain: from its production to its distribution until it is consumed.

In industrialized countries this phenomenon assumes great importance also because food waste is not only due to bad storage or problems in processing, but also to the consumer who once purchased the product tends to let it expire in the fridge for negligence or superficiality.

According to the "Global Food losses and Food Waste" study conducted by FAO in 2011, the amount of food wasted each year is about a third of the total amount of food produced, around 1.3 billion tons, of which 80% is still consumable.

This is even more paradoxical if we consider the current need to produce more and more food to cope with a constantly growing world population.

Causes and consequences of food waste

Causes of good food loss are to be found in each of the stages of the food supply chain.

During the production and processing phase many products are rotting already in the fields or because of how they are stored or transported.

In the distribution phase, the greatest waste occurs for commercial reasons and concerns products that are discarded by the manufacturing companies because they are not aesthetically perfect and therefore not appealing to potential buyers and consumers.

What happens in the consumption phase we can imagine more easily because we live it every day personally. We are talking about the waste not only in restaurants, supermarkets and school canteens, but also in our homes, the so-called "domestic waste".

In the latter case the causes can be found in the excess of food we buy, perhaps driven by special and "unmissable" offers or in serving too large portions that we can not consume.

Many are the consequences due to the waste of food that impact on the economy and the environment, without mentioning the ethical-social consideration that actually would be needed.

The life cycle of food, from its production to the moment when it becomes waste, it requires the use of precious resources; if the food is not consumed, the resources used will also be wasted. 

The 2013 FAO report "Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources" analyzes the environmental and economic impact of food waste at a global level by analyzing the following parameters:

  • Carbon Footprint - for the carbon dioxide volume evaluation
  • Water Footprint - for the water used volume evaluation
  • Ground Surface Used - ground surface used to produce that amount of food
  • Biodiversity - biological diversity of species within an ecosystem during the production phase

The results show that every year a volume of water equal to three times the Lake of Geneva and a volume of 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide are wasted, occupying an agricultural area of 1.4 billion hectares equal to 28% of the area of land agricultural sector with an economic loss of around 750 billion dollars.

How to avoid food waste

In Italy on 5th February is the National Day against food waste, but by itself it is not enough to reduce the scope of this phenomenon.

The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, signed by the United Nations in 2015, has among its 17 objectives the promotion of sustainable agriculture (such as the organic one) based on practices that tend to use resources in such a way as to preserve and protect the ecosystems and that lead over time to improve the quality of the land.

Short supply chain systems, such as sales in the company premises or to the markets, present lower losses in terms of waste, which are even more reduced if we consider sales and local sales systems.

Among the several initiatives aimed at reducing the volume of food lost in Italy there is the one represented by many associations, on a voluntary basis, which at the local level recover good food from canteens, companies and supermarkets and then distribute them to other needs.

How to reduce domestic food waste

The domestic one is the type of food waste that anyone of us can reduce independently because it represents "our waste".

Unfortunately, not everyone can periodically check what is in the house and so fresh food in the fridge such as milk and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, bread, rice and pasta in the pantry, are the ones that mostly end up in the bin because they have gone bad or because it was not possible to consume the leftovers.

So how to reduce domestic food waste? Just following small precautions:

1. buy the right amount of food needed for your daily diet without being attracted by too many special offers at the supermarket 
2. avoid putting on the table overabundant portions that you can not finish
3. get used to moving food with a short expiry both in the fridge and in the pantry
4. reuse any leftovers by experimenting with new recipes
5. freeze immediately freshly bought or cooked foods if you realize you have exaggerated
6. Use overripe fruit to make cakes or jam
7. Do you have a garden or a box on the terrace? Try composting!

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