Food Waste and Climate Change
When Little Chefs Big Chefs CIC was started, it was set up with the intent of educating all ages, particularly children of the skills and knowledge needed to cook. Afterall, we all need to eat and ideally, consume food that nourishes the body and soul.
As we started to collect surplus foods, there was a realisation that food waste was a massive problem, not only from supermarkets but in restaurants and at home too. Upon researching and unearthing the gravitas of the impact of food waste on our environment, I became engrossed and shocked at how something many of us don’t think about once it goes in the bin, can contribute to climate change.
Our LCBC Community Pantry Story
The idea for our LCBC Community Pantry came about over 3 years ago as a reaction to this. Offering this perfectly edible food to the community not only helps to reduce food waste, but as we only ask for a low service contribution reflective of what food is taken, this helps keep more pennies in the pocket of those accessing it.
We believe all food has value; the resources, fertilisers and water used to produce it, time spent ‘nurturing’ it, the processing, transportation and storage needed to get it to your plate all come with their own impact on the environment and don’t come for free.
Why we are concerned about food waste
When we break down this impact, this brings up quite alarming figures:
Food waste accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions globally than all of the commercial flights we take each year, generating 22 million tonnes.
If food waste were a country, it would have the third biggest carbon footprint (after USA and China).
At least one third of all edible food produced across the world is never eaten (1.3 billion tonnes!). This is enough to feed 2 billion people! This is just over a quarter of the world’s population!
It takes a land mass larger than China to grow the food each year that is ultimately never eaten.
Fresh water is one of Earth’s most precious resources, and 70 per cent of it is used for agricultural purposes, including crop irrigation and drinking water for livestock.
Did you know the production of just one apple requires an average of 125 litres of water? That means throwing away a bruised apple is akin to pouring 125 litres of water down the drain.
The numbers with meat are even more staggering: 15,400 litres for just one kilogram of beef.
Land is another of Earth’s valuable and limited commodities. Twenty-eight per cent of the world’s agricultural area is used to produce food that is ultimately lost or wasted each year. Not only does that result in unnecessary degradation of land, but clearing land for agricultural purposes is also a cause of deforestation, which eliminates wildlife habitats and wipes out greenhouse-gas-absorbing trees.
The estimated annual food waste arising within UK households, hospitality & food service, food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors is around 9.5 million tonnes, 70% of which was intended to be consumed by people (30% being the ‘inedible parts’). This had a value of over £19 billion a year, and would be associated with more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
In the UK, we waste 4.5 million tonnes of food at home every year. This has fallen by 7% in the past 3 years but it is still an amount that needs to be drastically reduced. The average family could save £730 a year or just over £60 a month by reducing their waste.
So how does food waste affect the environment?
When food waste goes to landfill, which is where the vast majority of it ends up, it decomposes without access to oxygen (unlike composting) and creates methane. Methane is 23 times more deadly than carbon dioxide. Both of these greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, i.e. global warming.
How does global warming affect our planet?
Extinctions of species: Global warming is likely to be the greatest cause of species extinctions this century. A 1.5°C average rise may put 20-30% of species at risk of extinction. 1 in 6 species are at risk of extinction because of climate change.
Ecosystems: If the planet warms by more than 2°C, most ecosystems will struggle. Global warming stresses ecosystems through temperature rises, water shortages, increased fire threats, drought, weed and pest invasions, intense storm damage and salt invasion, just to name a few. Some of Australia’s great natural icons, such as the Great Barrier Reef, are already threatened.
Rising sea levels: Increased ocean temperatures are melting glaciers and ice caps all over the world. Melted ice increases the volume of water in our oceans. Warmer temperatures also result in the expansion of the water’s mass, which causes sea levels to rise, threatening low-lying islands and coastal cities.
More frequent and intense extreme weather events: Extreme weather events like bushfires, cyclones, droughts and floods are becoming more frequent and more intense as a result of global warming.
Oceans are warming and acidifying: The oceans have absorbed most of extra heat and carbon dioxide (CO2) so far – more than the air – making the seas both warmer and more acidic. Warming waters are bleaching coral reefs and driving stronger storms. Rising ocean acidity threatens shellfish, including the tiny crustaceans without which marine food chains would collapse.
Food and farming: Changes to rainfall patterns, increasingly severe drought, more frequent heat waves, flooding and extreme weather make it more difficult for farmers to graze livestock and grow produce around the world, reducing food availability and making it more expensive to buy.
Water: Reduced rainfall and increasingly severe droughts may lead to water shortages.
Coastal Erosion: Rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storm surges will see more erosion of coastlines, wearing away and inundating community and residential properties.
Health: Increasingly severe and frequent heat waves in certain parts of the world may lead to death and illness, especially among the elderly. Higher temperatures and humidity could also produce more mosquito-borne disease.
So what can we do at home?
We can value our food: Even if food is inexpensive, appreciate the time, energy, resources, transportation and storage that has gone into bringing it to you.
Rethink dates on food. Best before dates are only there to give a reference for quality, but even so, the food is still edible after this. Even if apples have gone a bit wrinkly, bread has gone a bit stale or hard cheese has developed a bit of mould, think outside of the box. Bake apples in a crumble (and please don’t waste valuable fibre by peeling), refresh bread by quickly running under water then pop it in the oven or freeze and use as needed and cut the mould off cheese, it is perfectly fine to eat (this does not apply to semi soft cheeses such as brie or camembert).
Storage: It may seem obvious, but check how you store food. E.g. bread belongs in a bread bin or dark cupboard, not in the fridge, store potatoes in a dark bag or cupboard, fruit (with the exception of bananas) is best kept in the fridge. For more foods and storage recommendations, see Love Food Hate Waste Food Storage
Check the temperature: Your fridge should be kept at a temperature between 3 – 5c, your freezer should be between 18 – 23c. Invest in a fridge thermometer if you can. Keep your freezer relatively full as other frozen foods help to maintain the temperature and prevent the compressor from over working. However, do not overstock your fridge as the cold air needs to circulate.
Plan your shopping: This not only will save you money but help reduce food waste too. Draw up menus for the week then write a shopping list of items you will need. Better still, base your menus around food you already have in stock.
Love your leftovers: Don’t just bin leftovers, make them into a completely new meal. Most supermarket websites have a recipe section and even typing in ‘leftovers’ on a search engine will bring up a mass of ideas. Also try Love Food Hate Waste Recipes
Portion control: If you are not going to use up that mass of pasta, rice etc. the next day, make sure you measure out your food to avoid it going to waste Love Food Hate Waste Portion Planner
Compleat your food: This means eat every edible part. That means food such as the stalks on broccoli – slice thinly and cook with the florets, avoid peeling (or use veg peelings to make ‘crisps’), if cutting off bread crusts, bake them in the oven to make ‘breadsticks’ for dips – try drizzling them with oil, smoked paprika/curry power and a sprinkle of salt beforehand, use cauliflower leaves in a stir fry or just cook like cabbage (they are also delicious tossed in soy sauce and baked), beetroot leaves can be used like spinach, use the stalks of herbs at the beginning of cooking, shred the heart of cabbage or cauliflower to make a coleslaw and use the water you use to cook your veg to make sauces or soup or even freeze as stock.