Photo: Are you wasting food?

Light and air are required to compost food waste properly. Most garbage is buried in a landfill, so that food ends up producing methane gas one of the villains of global warming.

By Glauce Fleury

It's 6:30 a.m. While the water is boiling, I put the tea bag in my cup and take the bread from the freezer. There are only four slices: two middles and both ends. I grab the middles and put the package back. At night I'm cooking dinner. I peel some carrots to remove the skin. In the end, there's not much left. I throw the broccoli stalks away, cook rice and chicken and eventually notice it's more than I can eat. On the next day I want something fresh. The leftovers aren't appealing. Garbage?

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About 1.3 billion tonnes of food go to waste every year in the world. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this food could feed three times the hungry people on the planet. To cut food loss and waste, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) launched the campaign Think.Eat.Save in support of the Save Food Initiative.

Thinking that food waste is not a problem because it'll decompose in the landfill is a mistake. According to the UNEP, light and air are required to compost it properly. But most garbage is buried in a landfill, so that food ends up producing methane gas, one of the villains of global warming. The rise in average global temperature is more affected by food waste than by air traffic.

The UN campaign insists on an important issue: food waste and loss affect everyone. In developing countries, more than 30 per cent of food spoils. The reasons are related to infrastructure: perishable food isn't always stored properly or transported quickly. In developed countries, the amount of waste is the same but reasons are different — food is wasted by individuals, suppliers and restaurants through poor planning, preparation and storage.

That wasting food is often unintentional doesn't excuse it. As UNEP notes, we should keep in mind that when we waste food, we also waste the resources used to produce it — like water. Consider the effects of our actions: to produce one hamburger, we need up 2,400 litres of water. In other words, we could use this water to fill 16 bathtubs — this represents the amount we'd be throwing away if we let the hamburger go to waste.

If we learn to control the portions we buy or cook, store and freeze food properly, and avoid buying too much fresh food that spoils before eating, we'll be able to eat what's available in our fridge, avoiding waste and contributing to a sustainable future.

If you end up with more than you need, pass it on, but don't discard it.

Ten tips to reduce your "foodprint" and food bill

  1. Shop smart — plan your meals
  2. Buy funny fruit — don't avoid fruit just because it doesn't look "perfect"
  3. Understand expiration Dates — check if they really indicate safety
  4. Zero down your fridge — eat what's in your fridge before buying more
  5. Say freeze and use your freezer — frozen food keeps longer
  6. Request smaller portions — do it in restaurants and avoid waste
  7. Compost — help to reduce climate impacts
  8. Use FIFO (First In First Out) as a kitchen rule — eat first what you bought first
  9. Love leftovers — take them even from restaurants
  10. Donate — pass food on if you won't be able to eat
June 21, 2013

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Jun 27, 2013
4:52 PM

Thanks, Alex T, for your comment. Recent statistics reveal Canadians waste more than $ 27 billion worth of food per year – or about 40 percent! Half of that is from individual households. Far from distracting ourselves from the real problem, we are all very much a part of the problem, and the solution. We need to focus on what we can do because individual actions can make a big difference. By cutting our household food waste, we would save billions.

Jun 24, 2013
10:56 AM

How much of this waste is post-consumer?

I imagine that much (most?) of the waste will be as spoilage before it ever reaches a shopping cart. Even at the supermarket, I’ve seen entire dumpsters filled with unsold food. By focusing on what we can do, are we distracting ourselves from the real problem?

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