Consequences of food waste

By Bhaskar Anand Bhaskar Anand (abhaskar@hanyang.ac.kr; https://www.bhaskaranandjha.com) is a postdoctoral research fellow working at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Hanyang University, Seoul.

The food waste in our society poses an environmental and climate concern. The majority of discarded food ends up in landfills. As food decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than CO2, intensifying climate change. The “Food Waste Index Report” by the United Nations Environment Program is revelation that 8-10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from food waste. Not only does this stress the detrimental impact of food waste on climate change, but also underscores the squandered resources and energy expended on food production and transportation.

Globally, about 1 billion tons of edible food go to waste each year, while over 800 million people are food insecure. Food waste permeates the supply chain, from farm to fork, driven by factors such as spoilage, improper storage, consumer behavior and deliberate disposal. While the extent of food waste is alarming, its concealed carbon footprint poses a graver concern. A one-third of all food produced for human consumption, amounting to a staggering 1.3 billion tons, is discarded annually, generating an estimated 2,000 to 3,600 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per ton of wasted food. This waste could be repurposed to nourish over 2 billion people, more than twice the global population facing food insecurity.

The interlinked environmental and climate repercussions of food waste pervade the food supply chain, creating challenges from resource-intensive production to greenhouse gas-emitting decomposition. The Environmental Protection Agency promotes the “Food Recovery Hierarchy” to manage surplus food, as a comprehensive approach to source reduction, food donation to feed those in need, animal feed, industrial uses, composting and landfill/incineration (as a last resort). Adhering to this hierarchy not only addresses hunger but also mitigates associated emissions.

A portion of the world’s food-insecure population inhabits regions vulnerable to weather events, exacerbated by climate change, forming a detrimental cycle interconnecting food waste, climate change and hunger. Tackling food waste in affluent nations is an achievable goal. Practices like planning meals, and making shopping lists can make a difference. Proper food storage, freezer utilization and creative leftover strategies are measures to reduce food waste. Legislative actions against avoidable food waste in landfills hold the potential to significantly reduce global emissions. The success of South Korea’s twodecade-old ban on food scraps in landfills, repurposing most scraps to animal feed, fertilizer and household heating fuel, serves as an exemplary case study.

Amid a world grappling with food scarcity, the disposal of perfectly edible food in landfills, leading to methane emissions and exacerbating global warming, is indefensible. Tackling this issue demands a holistic approach that encompasses awareness campaigns, policy adjustments and individual accountability.






The Korea Times Co.