Skip to main content
Menu

Food waste   |   COP26   |   Climate change

Where to go next with food waste?

Who hasn’t felt guilt when scraping leftovers into the bin? Definitely me. I joined Food in Community, a Devon food waste not-for-profit as a volunteer in 2015, so I’ve had six years to perfect my household food waste reduction strategy, but short-dated food still deteriorates before I can use it when short of time. On the compost heap it goes. Humans are hardwired in our dislike of waste. So where are we going wrong?

Greenhouse gases emitted due to food waste are greater than the total emissions by any individual country in the world, other than China and the US. Emissions associated with the food we throw away in the UK are more than the total greenhouse gas emissions for Kenya. As Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) summarised: "Putting a serious dent in food loss and waste will slow climate change..."

But how? Eating the food we produce will help ensure that the resources to produce, pack, store and transport it, including fossil fuels, water, land, seeds, labour, money and time, is invested in the sustenance of people, the nutrients providing energy for life and health. If that food is wasted, the resources are wasted, and more resources will be needed to be used to replace the food. It sounds obvious, but the environmental footprint of food waste is largely the carbon footprint of the food. Decarbonising our food system and our diets is then vital.

Carrots

If we need to eat more plant-based food for the environment as well as our health, it makes good sense for us to eat as much as possible of what is grown. Fruit and vegetables represent the largest volume globally of wasted food, up to 60 per cent, so interventions are potentially impactful. However, strategies for gathering and using food that would otherwise be wasted need to be designed carefully, ideally with farmers and grassroots experts in the agroecological sphere.

When foods already have a low carbon footprint, transportation of them can account for 50 per cent of their carbon footprint, so distribution strategies need to be about more than replacing diesel with electric vehicles. Particularly if the produce has a short shelf-life, it needs to be used quickly and usually this means locally, where strong networks are vital.

So how do we move forward on food waste post COP26? I can’t help coming back to Guy Singh-Watson’s analysis, that “..taxes on carbon (or directly on fossil fuels) offer the only realistic path.”

There is no doubt that we need to make better use of the foods we produce and deal with surpluses more mindfully, but one step before that, we need to support agroecological foods produced with low fossil fuel input. I will still be making my ‘bottom of the fridge’ supper dishes with leftover odds and ends. Individual efforts still matter, but some of the issues behind food waste are structural.

    Comments

    Chantelle Norton

    Chantelle Norton is a director of award-winning not-for-profit Food in Community, based in Dartington, South Devon. Since 2012, Food in Community has used surplus food, including donated fresh fruit and vegetables from Riverford, as a catalyst for strengthening communities, tackling poverty and social isolation. She first joined Food in Community in 2015, volunteering at their pay-what-you-feel cafes.  She is passionate about using food as a conduit to bring diverse people together.

    Wicked Leeks issue 8

    Wicked Leeks is out now

    Featuring a cover interview with Patagonia, the latest news from COP26, and living for a new era. Plus meet the farm of the future, how to eat to protect biodiversity and seasonal eating in autumn.

    Read more

    Leading the Veg Revolution

    Shop seasonal organic veg boxes or explore Riverford's recipe hub, for veg help and foodie inspiration.

    Go to Riverford

    How to cook with a veg box

    From meal planning to unusual veg: food writer Stacey Smith talks through how to cook with a veg box.

    Read more
    Spread the word

    The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

    Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.