Why Individual Actions Matter in the Fight Against Food Waste

It can sometimes feel like what you do with your food waste doesn’t really matter in the long run, but how you dispose of waste definitely makes an impact on the environment. Oliver explains why you (yes you!) can make positive difference and gives suggestions to help reduce your food waste.

Image credit: https://www.chriskingphotography.com/video-production-and-documentary-photography/stop-the-rot-campaign/

Project Drawdown is an attempt to collate humanity’s most effective solutions to mitigate the effects of global climate change. The project’s website lists 81 solutions ranked in terms of the volume of COemissions they have the potential to prevent from occurring by 2050. At the top of this list are some familiar sounding solutions for our global crisis: large-scale solar deployment and offshore wind turbines. However, sitting just below these two as the solution ranked as the third best single initiative humanity can pursue to reduce CO2 emissions is the reduction of food waste. According to Drawdown reducing food waste globally has the potential to prevent 87 gigatons of CO2 being released by 2050. To put that into perspective, if UK emissions continue at their current rate it would take the entire nation 175 years to produce this volume of CO2.  

To achieve this 87 gigaton goal humanity would need to reduce food waste by an estimated 20 million tonnes per year for the next 30 years. The reduced emissions would also require other efforts such as the assured conservation of land, which would otherwise be required for use as farmland to keep up with increased food demands. Achieving this goal will require large scale efforts and much responsibility for their achievement will fall on governments and international food companies.

Convincing Ourselves We Are Part of the Solution

As an individual then, it may be hard to imagine that acts like throwing out half of a loaf of Aldi bread can do anything significant to contribute to this huge issue, and that making small behavioural changes like buying wonky veg can be of any significant assistance. However, over 70% of food waste in the UK is generated at  household level, meaning that individuals bear a significant amount of the responsibility for food waste management. What’s more, the impact of a single individual’s food waste may be more than you might think. 

Face the Waste Stats

Although it may be hard to imagine it when you’re only tossing away the occasional vegetable here and slice of bread there, estimates state that the average student in the UK wastes a total of 64kg of food per year. Wasting this volume of food is the same as emitting around 121kg of CO2, which is comparable to the volume of emissions generated by the energy use of an average household over 10 days. Food production is also highly resource intensive, most notably, water. 64kg of wasted food requires 106,000 litres of water, meaning that over the period of a 3 year degree course a single student could indirectly contribute to the waste of over 318,000 litres of water which is enough to fill a standard 25m swimming pool (through their food waste alone!) 

Image Credit: Creative Commons

Saving in More Ways Than One

Carbon equivalents and concepts like water wastage from food generation may seem slightly too abstract and distant to prompt you into making any immediate changes. If that’s the case, then it may be worth considering that your food waste can also affect something far more tangible and closer to home: the money in your pocket. According to a study by ZerowasteScotland, the average purchase cost of avoidable food waste per student per year is £273. That’s almost £300 spent on food which has ended up in your bin. There are definitely better ways to spend that money, for example, £273 would cover the cost of a Glastonbury ticket, which for 2019s festival was £270. From damaging the environment to depleting your overdraft, the impact of your own individual food waste is therefore far from insignificant.

Inspire Others

The impact that an individual can have on food waste however should not be seen as limited to that person themselves. Research has shown that one individual reducing food waste can inspire those in the same household to do the same, thus increasing your own potential influence. In places like London in which student flats often number 6 to 8 people the potential spread effect can be significant. There are also more formalised avenues through which individuals can work to reduce food waste at a larger scale such as through starting food waste initiatives. For example, Foodwaste Cafe Sussex was an initiative started by a few individual students and saved over 100 meals worth of food just in one single day which would otherwise have been wasted. This shows that individual initiative can be a springboard for large-scale action. 

Food Waste Cafe, Sussex. Image Credit: https://wildmag.co.uk/2019/02/18/fighting-food-waste-at-university/ 

Think Before You Bin Your Bread

Reducing your own food waste can have a significant beneficial impact on the planet and your own pocket. This, combined with the fact that managing your own food waste can be a springboard for wider social change, means that the impact of management of food waste at the individual level is not to be underestimated. Heather Langley has put together some tips for how specifically you can go about reducing your own food waste so you can do your bit to help bring an end to the food waste phenomenon. 

Editor’s contribution: If you are interested in learning more about how you can reduce what you throw away and trips and tricks to preserve veggies, check out BBC’s Regeneration Food with Max La Manna. There are some great video resources on this website!

About the Author: Oliver Kumar is a 3rd year environment student at LSE. He spends a lot of his free time trying to manage being a parent to a rapidly growing collection of plants.

One comment

  1. Every little action does help. One of the things that is also important is being vocal at our markets that we do not need “perfect” looking produce, but just healthful nutritious produce! We have one farm stand near us that has a table of “ugly” vegetables, and it always sells out!

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