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Food waste is a pressing global issue with far-reaching environmental, economic, and social implications. Over a third of all food produced (2.5 billion tons) is lost or wasted each year. One third of this occurs in the food production stage.

Wastage happens at various stages of the supply chain, from production and transportation to retail and consumer levels. Such wastage has dire consequences for the planet, including the release of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere, resource depletion, and biodiversity loss.

Economically, food waste represents a substantial loss, estimated at $940 billion, affecting businesses and consumers through increased food prices. Moreover, there are ethical concerns surrounding food wastage, given the coexistence of waste and hunger.

How UAE reduced food wastage

Recognising the severity of the problem, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken significant steps to address food wastage and contribute to a more sustainable future. One of the flagship initiatives in this endeavour is the UAE Food Bank, established in 2017. This innovative programme collects surplus food from hotels, restaurants and supermarkets and redistributes it to those in need. The UAE Food Bank has rapidly expanded its reach across the Emirates, simultaneously reducing food wastage and helping combat hunger.

Moreover, the “Grace Conservation” initiative, spearheaded by the Emirates Red Crescent Authority, is a groundbreaking programme. It not only addresses the needs of beneficiaries but also champions environmental conservation through resource recycling.

The project aims to instil a culture of generosity in society by reusing resources effectively. It reaches out to a diverse range of beneficiaries within and beyond the borders of the UAE. These beneficiaries include orphans’ families, government and private sector employees, low-income households and families of prison inmates, among other segments. Through this initiative, surplus food is repurposed to serve those in need while fostering a sense of environmental responsibility and philanthropy among members of the society.

UAE Food Bank has distributed more than 50 million meals since its establishment. Image Credit: Supplied

In addition to food redistribution efforts, the UAE has invested in sustainable agricultural practices such as hydroponics and vertical farming. These technologies enable the production of fresh, local produce while minimising the need for vast land areas and conserving water resources. Not only do these initiatives reduce food wastage, but they also promote responsible land use and water conservation, contributing to a more sustainable agricultural sector.

Furthermore, the UAE has implemented stringent food safety regulations, encouraging proper food handling and storage. Public awareness campaigns educate consumers about safe food practices, reducing food spoilage and enhancing food safety across the country. These regulations play a pivotal role in minimising wastage and ensuring food is utilised efficiently.

The UAE has also embraced technology in its mission to reduce food wastage. Smart apps have been developed to help consumers manage food inventory, plan meals efficiently, and find creative ways to use leftovers. These apps empower individuals to take proactive steps in their daily lives to minimise food wastage, contributing to a culture of responsible consumption.

How saving food saves the environment

The benefits of the UAE’s efforts to combat food wastage are multifaceted. From an environmental perspective, these initiatives have led to a reduction in methane emissions from landfills and the conservation of valuable natural resources. The country’s investments in sustainable agriculture not only minimise wastage but also promote responsible land use and water conservation, aligning with global sustainability goals.

Economically, the UAE’s actions to reduce food wastage have resulted in substantial savings for businesses and consumers. By cutting down on wastage, the nation has contributed to economic stability and has indirectly helped reduce food prices on a global scale by decreasing demand for food production.

Socially, the UAE’s commitment to food waste reduction has had a profound impact. The redistribution of surplus food to those in need has alleviated food insecurity and hunger, enhancing the well-being of its residents. Furthermore, the UAE’s emphasis on ethical food practices sets a valuable example for other nations, emphasising the need for responsible consumption.

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While the UAE’s efforts to combat food wastage are commendable, this global issue requires collective action. Education and awareness campaigns are essential to help people understand the consequences of food wastage and the importance of responsible consumption. Improving food distribution systems can ensure that surplus food reaches those in need rather than going to waste. Investment in innovative technologies, such as food tracking apps, can assist consumers in reducing waste at home.

Additionally, legal frameworks that discourage food wastage and incentivise responsible consumption are crucial for long-term success. Restaurants and food establishments can also play a role by offering smaller portions or encouraging patrons to take leftovers home.

The UAE’s remarkable efforts to combat food wastage serve as an inspiration to the world. It has demonstrated that meaningful change is possible through sustainable practices, innovative technologies, and a commitment to responsible consumption. It is now for the rest of the world to follow suit, working together to eliminate food wastage and create a happier and more sustainable planet for future generations.

— Dr Hamed Bin Mohamed Khalifa Al Suwaidi is the Founder and President of the Al Suwaidi Foundation, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Abu Dhabi Arts Society (ADAS), and Advisory Council Member of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.