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Why is food waste a problem?

27th September 2017

The first blog post of this four part series about food waste sought to clarify what food waste is. Food waste incorporates any food components removed from the food supply chain for recovery or disposal, of which a considerable chunk is from households. Of this, 60% is estimated to be avoidable. The last section of the first post focused on how food waste is quantified; this is often in terms of overall volumes wasted and in monetary value linked to this. These forms of measurement highlight, somewhat unsurprisingly, resource wastage as the key concern of food waste.

One resource being wasted is food – food is great! It’s a travesty to waste something as important, and which can provide such levels of joy as food. Much of this waste is completely unnecessary, such as that of food left to rot, or through selection of food to pass aesthetic standards. There is also a clear ethical dilemma here: many people within the UK and all over the globe live in food poverty, and high levels of wastage sit uncomfortably with this.

Another key resource wasted is money. In 2015, the average UK household wasted £470 worth of edible food (see here) and this money could have been spent elsewhere. On an individual level, financial wastage is indeed an issue and it’s highly likely that most households would appreciate that extra money. On a wider level, however, the picture is more complex. Whether money spent within the national or global economy is waste is a more difficult question, as although what money is exchanged for may be waste, the money itself contributes to economic activity.

 

A final key area of resource wastage is agricultural resources, such as land, water, and fertilisers. Agriculture is enormously resource intensive, accounting for 70% of water use and over 37% of land. In addition, much agricultural production makes use of expensive chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides, which are known to have broader environmental consequences. It is a huge concern that a third of the product of this immense resource use is wasted.

 

Food waste is an issue because it is just that, waste. Food interacts with a variety of resources and wasting food is not the most effective use of limited resources. Resources considered in this post are the food itself, financial, and resources used in the agricultural process. This is not an exhaustive list, and other resources are used in the supply chain, such as those for transport, are indeed also wasted. The next post in this series explores the role of packaging in reducing and preventing food waste.