One-third of food produced globally goes to waste.

One-third of food produced globally goes to waste. | Photo by Rachel Park on Unsplash

Waste Not: Food Waste Solutions Needed to Address Growing Global Problem

Published on November 5, 2019

Last week I attended International Night held at my husband’s school. The international school at which he works is robust and diverse with around 40 nationalities represented. The annual International Night event is always a community favorite — mainly because of the heaps of food and drink from countries around the world.

People queue for food from their favorite countries — places they’ve visited or lived. Staff working the country booths pile people’s plates with helpings, urging them to try new-to-them dishes in addition to tried-and-true favorites. Within minutes of the event’s start, untouched food is dumped into garbage cans.

According to Move For Hunger, a non-profit organization that collections non-perishable food and delivers it to food banks throughout North America, about 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States goes to waste. Globally, one-third of food produced is wasted.

About 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States goes to waste. Globally, one-third of food produced is wasted.

Yet, according to Food Aid Foundation, 795 million people do not have enough food. 

Food waste is an alarming offshoot of the climate crisis conversation and a multi-tiered problem: Agriculture is destructive to the environment. Consumer culture leads to excessive food waste. And the people who need food the most don’t have access to it.

The issue has been on my mind since eating at Instock on a trip to The Netherlands a few years ago. The restaurant’s chefs “save” food that’s about to expire, creating a new menu every night based on what’s about to go bad at local grocery stores. It’s a brilliant idea, and the meal was extra delicious because we knew it was also friendly to the planet.

Nonetheless, the food waste issue tends to be overlooked by a host of other universally concerning concerns.

From the sustainable travel angle, food waste is particularly problematic. When people travel, they eat out more often than usual and are less likely to take leftovers to go.

Eager to please their clients, tour operators overzealously offer food and snacks, creating further opportunity for waste. And, while trying the local cuisine is an excellent way to learn about a local culture, it also lends itself to waste if tastes don’t suit travelers’ palates.

Always a trendsetter in the tourism industry, Natural Habitat Adventures recently ran a zero-waste trip. But even the hyper-environmentally aware company found food waste to be problematic.

Luckily, people seem to be waking up to the food waste issue. A growing number of solutions surface seemingly every week: A non-profit organization in Philadelphia is helping people donate their food waste. South Korea is doubling down on its food waste efforts with special biodegradable bags that people must purchase. And, like Instock, Renewal Mill is making new food from discarded food.

I am concerned that most people aren’t yet aware of the severity of this problem. Food waste can’t be addressed in a silo, separate from the water shortage, deforestation for agricultural land, and other climate crisis issues.

Yet, these solutions stories offer hope and a blueprint for other companies and countries eager to address food waste.

I am very interested in food waste solutions, particularly in the travel industry. How is your company or community addressing the issue?

JoAnna Haugen

JoAnna Haugen is a writer, public speaker, solutions advocate, and founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, storytelling, and social impact. Get in touch with her for partnership and collaboration opportunities.

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