Combating climate change by reducing our food waste

Combating climate change by reducing our food waste

By Dr Rulia Akhtar

Our goal should be to feed more people while decreasing the amount of food that is wasted as the world’s population continues to rise. Food waste has an impact on society, the economy, and the environment worldwide. The challenge of decreasing food waste falls on governments, non-profits, businesses, and individuals. The United Nations aims to reduce global food waste per person by 50% at the retail and consumer levels by 2030.

The Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) in Malaysia reports that 24% of the 17,000 tonnes of food waste produced every day in the country is still edible. This corresponds to about 4.08 million kilogrammes, or 4,080 tonnes, of wasted food per day. Approximately 1.3 billion tons of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, seafood, and grains are discarded globally, accounting for roughly one-third of all food produced.

This wastage occurs due to various reasons, including produce remaining at the farm, misplacement or spoilage during distribution, or disposal in hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, schools, or households. There are enough calories in this wasted food to feed every malnourished person on the planet. Food waste is an environmental problem in addition to social and humanitarian issues. Food waste also includes the loss of water and energy during its production, harvesting, transportation, and packaging.

Furthermore, food waste decomposes in landfills, generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas more impactful than carbon dioxide. Decreasing food waste could lead to a 6% to 8% reduction in human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Food waste has a big influence on the environment in a few different ways. First of all, wasting food also wastes the natural resources mainly energy, fuel, and water used in its production. Water is necessary for all food types and at every stage of food production. Seventy percent of the water on Earth is used in agriculture for irrigation, crop spraying, and the rearing of fish and cattle. Thus, throwing away food also means throwing away a significant amount of freshwater.

Second, food waste is a factor in global warming. Food waste decomposes in landfills, emitting methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane traps solar heat for a period of 12 years and accounts for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The impact on climate change is significant when taking into account the emissions from the use of natural resources in the production of food.

By putting in place efficient systems for treating food waste, greenhouse gas emissions worldwide could be cut by 11%. Eliminating food waste has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 17 metric tonnes. Methane emissions from landfills and cattle farming contribute approximately 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, highlighting the connection between waste and climate change. These sources of methane production can be stopped by composting. Methane is particularly dangerous because it can trap 20 times more heat than carbon dioxide, and it is released during the production of natural gas and coal mining.

Third, the land that is used to grow food and the land that is used to dispose of waste are both adversely affected by our careless use of food products. More than 11.5 million hectares of land globally are dedicated to agriculture, encompassing both “arable” and “non-arable” areas. Livestock farming occupies 900 million hectares of non-arable land for dairy and meat production.

With increasing meat consumption, additional arable land is converted into pastures, posing environmental harm and impeding the growth of indigenous plants. Moreover, agriculture negatively impacts biodiversity, as techniques such as mono-cropping and conversion of natural habitats into pastures and farmland become more prevalent due to the rising demand for livestock products. This results in the conversion of natural areas and deforestation, which wipes out the current plant and animal life, sometimes to the point of extinction.

Fourth, food waste costs the economy a lot of money. Reducing food waste can ease financial strains and make it possible to invest in more environmentally friendly, sustainable agricultural methods. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste generates a yearly carbon footprint equivalent to 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. This suggests that although food is perishable, the waste it produces has negative effects on the environment. Food waste also compromises the food security of a country. Food waste makes up 45% of all household waste in Malaysia; when it breaks down in landfills, methane is released. As a result, Malaysia’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions place it 50th in the world.

Considering the small size of the nation, it is clear that every Malaysian contributes to waste. To tackle climate change, a wasteful lifestyle must give way to one that is zero waste. Food waste must be addressed because doing so can significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, preserve resources, and promote a more resilient and sustainable food system.

The author is a Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at [email protected]

Share This


Wordpress (0)
Disqus (0 )