Elaine Montegriffo is a Schwab Foundation 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awardee
Food is very precious. It’s a basic human right that is fundamental to our health and well-being. It nourishes and connects us to our community and environment.
So why are we wasting $8 billion of food every year in Australia, including 7.5 million tons of food that’s fit for human consumption? In wealthy countries like Australia, this waste occurs predominantly at the consumer end of the food supply chain, whereas consumer waste is minimal in low-income countries. If you’re a subsistence farmer in Laos, you never waste anything that could be eaten, because you know you are facing four to six months each year with nothing to feed your family other than what you can forage.
Ironically, it seems we have become so effective at producing food that we are happy to throw it away in vast quantities.
And why, knowing what we do about the negative impact of carbon emissions on so many aspects of our lives, are we sending the bulk of that food waste to landfills, where it creates methane gas that traps heat in our atmosphere at a rate 25 times higher than carbon dioxide? It’s estimated that 14 percent of global emissions are attributable to food waste. Food left to rot in landfills also contaminates nearby land and waterways.
And finally, why, when we know the extent of the pressure on our planet’s limited natural resources, are we frittering them away? When we waste food, we also waste the valuable and finite resources used to produce it: the agricultural land, the water, and the energy. For example, the water used to irrigate the food we waste every year (670 million tons globally) would provide fresh drinking water for 9 billion people.
Our very methods of food production and the ever-increasing demand for foods that require high amounts of energy to produce are also contributing to climate change.
As societies become more affluent, they desire more meat, which intensifies pressure on land and increases greenhouse gas emissions — livestock contribute 18 percent of total human-related emissions. Pressure on land means we feed livestock not grass, but grain, which is fertilized using fossil fuel.
Changes in eating patterns are also contributing to poorer nutrition. When incomes increase in developing countries, people turn away from traditional foods that are high in nutrition because they are associated with low status and considered “village food.” Ironically, energy-dense processed food is associated with higher status.
Australia is a fully industrialized, wealthy nation producing enough food for more than 60 million people. For many of us, there appears to be an abundant, limitless supply of food, but up to 2 million Australians are unable to feed themselves and their families.
We don’t need to produce more, but waste less.
By reducing the massive amounts of waste within the food system, we have the means to provide healthy, nutritious food for many more people while demanding less from our planet’s finite natural resources.
SecondBite rescues fresh, healthy food that would otherwise go to waste. In 2014–2015, we will rescue enough fresh food to provide 14.5 million nutritious meals to vulnerable Australians. For every million kilograms of food we rescue, we save 74 million liters of water (enough to fill 40 Olympic-size pools), 6 million kilojoules of energy (equivalent to leaving a television on for more than 1,200 years), and prevent 6 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions (more than 900 flights from Melbourne to Perth).
This post first appeared on Medium. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Author: Elaine Montegriffo is CEO of SecondBite in Australia, and a Schwab Foundation 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awardee
Image: Apples are displayed in a wheel barrow during an event promoting Polish apples. REUTERS/Franciszek Mazur/Agencja Gazeta.