From Farm to Landfill: Why we are Throwing away Billions of Dollars of Food every Year

As a kid, if I ever left uneaten food on my plate, my mum would sternly remind me that there were starving children in Africa who would love to have my leftovers and that I shouldn’t waste good food. What I didn’t know at the time was that food waste is a much bigger issue than picky children’s eating habits. A recent post on by Peter Lehner, the Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, calls for innovation in the food industry to reduce the amount of waste that goes straight from the farm to the trash.

According to a 2008 report by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Water Management Institute indicates that approximately half of all the food produced in the world is wasted. In the US, 30% of all food is thrown away, worth about $48 billion per year. For the average household, this is roughly 215 kilograms of food every year, worth about $600. Along with the wasted food goes the water and other resources required in the growing, production and transportation of the food. Food waste estimates suggest we are throwing 40 trillion litres of water into the garbage – enough to meet the household needs of 500 million people every year – in the face of a looming global fresh water supply shortage. 500 million people!

So why do we waste so much?

There are lots of reasons. On the consumer side, many of these are behavioural factors. Best before dates on packaging are intended to communicate the range for peak quality of certain products – not the date at which food products become harmful if consumed. A friend of mine used to work at a health food store where the staff were given a chance to take home expensive supplements and health food products that were past their printed “best before” dates, and were therefore not considered saleable, for free. Additionally, how many of us have gone to the supermarket and come back with a staple item only to find we already have an older one in the cupboard? Lehner cites a UK study where households that took an inventory of their food stores before going grocery shopping were able to save 18% of food waste. This is money that can be saved or invested in something productive.

What can we do?

The numbers for food waste are astonishing, in my opinion. With a magnitude like this, this issue is full of opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs to reinvent the food supply chain to reduce waste. A 10% reduction in food waste in the US alone makes for an industry of almost $5 billion. OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform for social good, crowd-sources ideas from people around the world who are interested in solving problems like this one. A recent challenge posted on the website sought to address the need to better connect food production and consumption in Queensland, Australia. The proposed solutions are varied, creative, and inspirational. Solutions included policies to increase the local food purchasing policies for schools, extending the reach of quality produce and other foods to marginal communities who lack access to healthy foods, and establishing public kitchens that the community can use for food processing (think jam making or pickling). Many of these solutions have relatively simple business models and are scalable – two prominent considerations in my business planning barometer.

Garbage bags that raise consumer awareness about food waste - art by Jon Erwin

Garbage bags that raise consumer awareness about food waste – art by Jon Erwin

Tackling food waste for a long bottom line

Existing food production companies and farmers have a lot to gain as well by reducing waste in the supply chain. Efficient production processes and growing practices will lead to improved profit margins and achievement of sustainability-related goals, which are becoming increasingly important as investors consider non-financial indicators in their evaluation of company performance.

The (long) bottom line is that this is a tremendous opportunity to tie “doing good” with a variety of lucrative business solutions. And who knows, perhaps we might just save enough food to feed those children my mum was talking about.

Post Script #1 – if you haven’t already checked out, please do. The website is a well-designed hub for sharing informative and tactical information that inspires us to make a positive difference in the world.

Post Script # 2 – the David Suzuki Foundation has put together a tactical “how-to” guide to reducing the amount of produce food waste in your home. I thought I would share.


Five Ways to End Food Waste


9 thoughts on “From Farm to Landfill: Why we are Throwing away Billions of Dollars of Food every Year

  1. Pingback: How Many Trips to Mars Will it Take us to Stop Wasting Food? | Long Bottom Line

  2. The amount of food waste is terrible. My partner and I have a bokashi bin and what little food scraps we have go in that. The bokashi mix helps the scraps break down and in turn we dig it into our garden beds/ pot plants to nourish the soil and help grow our fruit and veggies.

  3. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was
    good. I ddo not know who you are but certainly you are going to a
    famous blogger if you aree not already😉 Cheers!

  4. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a
    co-worker who was doing a little research on this.
    And he in fact bought me breakfast simply because I
    discovered it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this issue
    here on your blog.

  5. Greate article. Keeep writing such kind of information on your site.
    Im really impressed by you blog.
    Hey there, You have performeed an excellent job.
    I’ll certainly digg it and individually redcommend to my friends.
    I am confident they’ll be benefited from this website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s