Food wastage is a massive global problem, and one way of trying to help to reduce it is by attaching monetary value to the environmental degradation that results from it.
Narrator: Each year 30% of global food production is lost after harvest or wasted in shops, households, and catering services.
This represents $US 750 billion ($US 750,000,000,000) worth of food every year, and that is at producer prices. At retail prices, the value reaches a trillion dollars ($US 1,000,000,000,000) – twice the GDP of Norway.
If nature asked us to pay the total bill for food wastage, it could charge society at least another $700 billion ($US 700,000,000,000) a year because that wasted food still caused greenhouse gas emissions and climate change damages, used water for irrigation and increased water scarcity, cleared forests and eroded land, led to loss of pollinators, fishes and other biodiversity.
And there is more… social costs worth another trillion dollars are caused by food that never added one bit of nutrition to humanity. This includes pesticides’ impact on human health, loss of livelihoods as natural resources become more scarce, conflicts induced by pressure on natural resources, and subsidies spent to produce food wastage.
But those are only the costs that can be calculated. Food wastage has many more costs that cannot be quantified. Imagine if we quantified the loss of wetlands that purify water, or of biodiversity of pastures, or the value of fish discarded, or the scarcity of essential agricultural inputs such as phosphorus, or the increase in food prices because of loss of supply. Assigning a monetary value to environmental or social impacts will always be inexact. How to value beautiful landscape or a child’s health?
However we look at it, reducing food wastages makes sense economically, environmentally and socially. But not all the food wastage reduction measures are equal; some are better than others for nature and society.
Reducing food loss by raising consumer awareness or investing in improved post-harvest infrastructures and reducing food loss means we avoid using natural resources in the first place, leaving them available for the next harvest or future generations. Food that is about to be wasted on the market can best be redirected to charities. Or if it is not up to human consumption standards, then think of feeding it to livestock, so that there is less need to produce animal feed.
When you save the food, you save the resources used to produce it. Food waste used to produce bio-gas is surely a better option than dumping it in landfills, but this wastage reduction measure is the least environmentally effective. All food reduction measures are different in terms of climate impact and use of water, land, and biodiversity.
Reducing wastage by not creating it in the first place should be a priority for all.