Food wastage
The causes of food waste or loss are numerous and occur throughout the food system Image Credit: Pexels

Imagine this; you are sitting at a restaurant that has become one of your favourites. Your eyes were bigger than your stomach, and you had ordered far more than what your appetite could handle.

You dig into your delicious meal and leave one-third of your plates full. You pay and leave the restaurant. Have you ever wondered; Where does that food go? Are you contributing to food waste?

Food waste is a global issue that not only impacts the environment but also exacerbates world hunger and wastes valuable resources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced for human consumption is wasted globally each year, amounting to roughly one-third of all food produced, that could have otherwise been used to feed the hungry and reduce the strain on our planet.

One of the primary causes of food waste is consumer behaviour, particularly in developed countries where individuals often over-purchase and discard excess food. Studies indicate that households in North America and Europe waste an average of 95-115 kg of food per person annually.

Furthermore, inefficiencies in the food supply chain, such as overproduction, insufficient storage facilities, and logistical difficulties, cause considerable food waste before it reaches consumers.

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Environmental remediation

Moreover, the food industry contributes significantly to food waste. Supermarkets frequently discard completely edible produce that fails to meet rigorous aesthetic criteria, resulting in tonnes of food being wasted daily. In addition, inadequate supply chain methods lead to substantial loss of food during transportation and storage.

The financial cost of food waste is astounding; the FAO estimates that it amounts to more than $1 trillion per year. In addition to the direct financial losses suffered by producers, merchants, and consumers, food waste bears indirect costs to society in terms of disposal, transportation, and environmental remediation.

According to the World Health Organisation, the United Nations states that the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, an increase of about 46 million since 2020 and 150 million since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the report that provides fresh evidence that the world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

Now, you might think: why is 10% of the world starving? What has caused that percentage of people, mainly women and girls, to go chronically hungry?

The first and most major cause is food insecurity. In 2022, nearly 258 million people across 58 countries experienced crisis-level food insecurity or worse, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Other reasons include poverty, conflict, inadequate infrastructure, climate change, inequitable food distribution, and inadequate government policies and social programs.

It makes you think about how easily governments fund military equipment that reaches a staggering high of $2443 billion, while it costs $40 billion each year to end world hunger by 2030 according to the World Food Program.

Understanding causes and consequences

Tackling chronic hunger requires a holistic approach that addresses the systemic root causes of food insecurity, including poverty, conflict, inadequate infrastructure, climate change, and inequitable food distribution.

Efforts to improve access to nutritious food, promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen social protection systems, and address the underlying drivers of hunger are essential to reducing chronic hunger and achieving food security for all.

Moreover, addressing food waste requires a multifaceted approach that involves stakeholders at all levels of the food system. Consumer awareness and behaviour change initiatives can help reduce household food waste, while organisations can implement better inventory management practices, invest in infrastructure improvements, and establish partnerships with food recovery organisations.

Policy interventions, including regulatory measures, financial incentives, and awareness campaigns, are essential to catalyse systemic change and create a more sustainable food system.

Food waste is a complex and urgent issue that demands collective action and coordinated efforts at the local, national, and global levels. By understanding the causes and consequences of food waste and implementing evidence-based solutions, we can move towards a future where food is valued, resources are conserved, and hunger is alleviated.

Maram Saleh, a Bahraini law student, finds inspiration in the realms of research and writing.