The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a third of the world’s food is wasted every year. Forests are cleared, fuel is burnt and packaging is produced just to provide food which is thrown away. Meanwhile, rotting food in landfills releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
When the pandemic hit, food security became a concern for many people and they began wasting less food. Whether it was through meal planning, shopping less, checking the cupboards for ingredients or using leftovers, they found a better way to use food.
That’s good news for the environment since food waste is responsible for around eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Household food waste in Britain, for example, fell significantly in the early phase of the lockdown in April with just 14 percent of four key items – bread, chicken, milk and potatoes – thrown away, according to research by environmental group WRAP, which conducted thousands of interviews.
Pre-lockdown, an average of 24 percent had been wasted. Waste had begun to rebound by June, with a second WRAP survey putting waste of those products at 18 percent, but remained significantly below pre-lockdown levels.
Plan More, Cook More
Food security has been a major concern during the pandemic as consumers panic-bought basic goods, migrant workers struggled to get to the fields, meat-packing plants shut and farm goods produced for shuttered restaurants rotted. But the lower household food waste has been one bright spot.
Out of necessity, consumers have become more organized in planning menus, developing new cooking skills, checking their cupboards and fridges more before they shop and finding better ways to use up leftovers, according to food waste experts.
Increased frugality could prove a valuable habit in the economic and unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic since a family of four in the US was estimated to throw out food worth about $1,800 a year.
Too Good for the Bin
A survey from Germany’s Food and Agriculture Ministry also showed consumers had started to become more concerned about wasting food during the coronavirus crisis.
The government had launched an anti-food waste campaign called “Too good for the bin” before the crisis, urging the public not to automatically throw food away after the sell-by date but to smell and taste it to see if it was still in good condition.
The ministry’s survey, undertaken during the pandemic, found that 91 percent of German consumers questioned were now checking food after its sell-by date and not automatically throwing it away. This compared to only 76 percent in a similar survey in 2016.
Food waste is not restricted to the home but it is the biggest source in many countries. The European Union has published a study estimating that 53 percent of food waste was in households and 11 percent in production, with the balance in areas such as processing and retailing.
China’s President Xi Jingping said this month that the amount of food wasted in China was “shocking,” prompting many local governments to launch related campaigns.