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Food Waste Management – How Badly the World Needs It

How many times did you have to throw away your food because you couldn’t eat it? I bet you don’t have the count. We throw away food so casually that it rarely occurs to us that it could be easily avoided. Food wastage is more than just a habit born out of carelessness. It’s a lifestyle and a culture of seeing food wastage as a sign of plenty. This culture is more widely seen in the developed countries where restaurants, stores and people like to stock up more than their requirement.

Globally nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food goes waste. This is happening right when 113 million people across the world are facing food shortage. It is like throwing away food from your fridge while some people in your home are still starving. Would you ever do that in your home? Actually, we all are doing it, every single day, at a massive scale. The share of developing nations in food wastage is a whopping 68%. In fact, the total food wastage in the developed countries is almost as much as the net food production of the sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, a lot of the wasted food in the developed countries is thrown away when it’s still good enough to be eaten.

While it’s understandable that stale food items are supposed to be thrown away, most of the wastage happens due to people’s habit of stocking up more food than they require. Most of the wastage would not happen in the first place if people inculcate the habit of stocking up only as much required for a 2-3 days. Apart from stocking up, care must be taken in cooking, serving and ordering. Large quantities of cooked food can often go unconsumed and since very few people like eating leftovers, it contributes to food wastage. It has been noted that most of the food wastage comes from homes and restaurants. Grocery stores and institutions are also significant contributors to global food waste. However, developed nations are not the only contributors to this problem. Food wastage in developing nations draws a sadder and ironic picture since the problem of food shortage and hunger are also existing at the same time.

Fruit, vegetables and root crops have the highest percentage of wastage in the global quantitative food waste index followed by fish, cereals, meat and dairy. It has also been noted that many fruits and vegetables are discarded on the basis of aesthetics. Apparently, “not so good-looking” ones are rejected before they can even hit the market despite the fact that they can be just as nutritious and appetising. Grocery stores and vendors must stop this ridiculous practice right away. The fruits and vegetables that they are leaving out will not only reduce food waste but will also add to their income eventually. Unused and leftover food is another disconcerting part of the problem. Most of such food is still fit for consumption. All such food items should be repackaged in clean and biodegradable containers and redistributed to those who are suffering from food shortage and hunger.

But what about the food that has actually gone bad? It is but expected that one must throw it away and that’s what most people do. It goes to the bin and from there it goes to the landfills. What happens there? All the dumped food waste lies there for months and sometimes even years and keeps rotting and releasing greenhouse gases thus adding to the global warming. Distasteful, right? Truth can be quite ugly at times!

On the brighter side, there are ways to manage the situation. In fact, there is a whole industry around it that we know as “Food waste management”. Although new, this industry has the potential to turn the tonnes of food waste into useful products or even energy. Methods like composting and anaerobic digestion can help in producing manure, fertilizers and biogas. Some people also prefer to have a compost pit in their own home thus providing for essential manure for their kitchen garden and/or lawn. The food that can neither end up in composting nor in anaerobic digester can be sent to incinerator where it can be combusted to produce electricity.

There are also community food fridges as good ideas or re-allocation. where people / hotels can put the waste food, for others in the community to have.

Either way, the point is to utilize the food waste rather than letting it go to landfills. Food waste also contributes to wastage of water, energy and labour. Moreover, before it becomes waste we must attune our food stocking habits to match our actual needs which are often not as high as we assume. English economist Kate Raworth’s unconventional ‘circular economy’ model suggests balancing the essential human needs like food and water with our planet’s boundaries. It is popularly known as ‘doughnut economics’. Stocking up only as much we need immediately can help in avoiding a lot of food wastage. Remember, what you are throwing away could have satiated an underprivileged child’s hunger.

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