How can cities reduce food waste?

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The term ‘’food waste’’ covers both edible food that is thrown away by consumers and food that is intended for human use but never gets to us. Annual food waste generation in the EU is estimated to be 88 million tonnes.

A quality meal every other day is out of reach for 36.2 million people, even though an estimated 20 percent of the food produced is lost or discarded, according to Eurostat. Just by looking at those statistics, it becomes clear that food waste has become a major global issue that needs an urgent and vigorous reaction.

Like in many other issues, cities can be a part of the solution. But there are easy ways to reduce food waste, as well as numerous strategies that cities can apply in order to limit it. Here we look into the consequences of food waste and what cities can do in order to properly address this issue.

Food waste is not only morally irresponsible, but it also causes enormous economic losses and serious harm to the environment in a world where millions of people lack access to food. According to the United Nations, the number of people who experience hunger started to gradually rise again in 2015. 

Nearly 690 million people, or 8.9 percent of the world’s population, are currently estimated to be undernourished. Moreover, the World Food Programme estimates that wars caused by humans, climate change, and economic downturns are the main causes of 135 million people who are currently experiencing acute hunger.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is focused on achieving peace and prosperity for people and the planet, and it goes without saying that one of the key components of that goal is securing access to food.

“Zero hunger” is one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which was officially adopted in 2015. In addition to committing to year-round universal access to safe, nourishing, and sufficient food, this SDG strives to abolish hunger and all types of malnutrition by 2030. 

However, the World Wildlife Fund states that food waste is also an environmental issue, not just a social or humanitarian one. All the water and energy used to grow, harvest, transport, and package the food is likewise wasted when we throw it away.

Food waste is incredibly destructive to the environment, and our eating habits are a major cause of global warming, which is already having a clear impact on the world and poses a serious threat to the planet. Methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas than even CO2, is produced in vast quantities by food waste that ends up in landfills.

How can cities play a part in fulfilling this Sustainable Development Goal and how can they reduce their food waste? Public awareness campaigns can be a valuable tool in this, and cities should take an active role to promote different food habits which are less damaging to the environment. Providing tips about more time- and cost-efficient food preparation can also be extremely useful. 

Food waste is more frequently caused by people who are unaware of the cost of the food they may be throwing away and its consequences, which is why these kinds of initiatives can be a very easy fix that produces excellent results.

During the first week of September 2020, Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling (Together against food waste)  association in the Netherlands hosted the second edition of the Dutch Food Waste Free Week. According to the official website of the European Commission, primary schools and supermarkets joined the initiative, along with more than 65 businesses, organizations, and municipalities.

Consumers received more than 1.000.000 tools, including the “Yes-No Fridge Sticker,” which explains what should and shouldn’t be kept in the refrigerator. These types of events can also be extremely useful to inform citizens about how to plan their meals and which tools to use in order to minimize leftovers, which often go to waste.

Dutch cities have implemented another good strategy with the goal of reducing the amount of food that goes to waste. The Guardian reported in 2017 that The Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam were participating in initiatives to collect leftover bread and turn it into fertilizer and biogas.

Furthermore, food banks and other organizations that fight hunger can redistribute the food that has been produced but cannot be sold or utilized by the producer. Utilizing apps or other digital technologies to aid in food distribution and reduce waste is another creative solution to address this issue.

One of the simplest and most effective steps cities can take to save money and lessen their impact on the environment is to prevent food from going to waste, and there are numerous ways to do this. In order to combat hunger and its core causes, cities should continue to adopt these strategies and even explore novel, innovative ones. (photo credit: Jony Ariadi/Unsplash)