What can we do about food waste?

Food waste is a huge problem for our climate, land use, biodiversity and social justice. Thankfully, it is getting more attention than ever before, and now there are lots of opportunities to make a difference.

Read up (with a critical eye)

One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to halving the world’s food waste by 2030. Their platform includes lots of publications, events and news about how food waste is being tackled around the world.

If you read more articles on this blog (such as What is food waste?) it will become clear that food waste is a surprisingly complex issue. For instance, globally we haven’t worked out a standardised way of measuring it, and the UK’s own targets and use of data is flawed.

It is important to maintain an critical eye over what you see and hear about food waste (see the Explore tab for my attempts at doing this in books, magazines, art, exhibitions and politics).

Personal changes

This blog has a section for food waste habits you can adopt yourself. I called it ‘Fun’ because in my opinion, unless you find personal changes rewarding or enjoyable, it just adds an extra burden onto a busy life. But if you like trying new ways to reduce food waste at home, here is a selection of other websites you can explore.

  • Friends of the Earth have a page devoted to how to cut food waste at home
  • From saving pumpkins at Halloween to everyday practices, Hubbub offers lots of opportunities to make a change
  • Salvage food that was going to be thrown out by restaurants and cafes at a discount with the Too Good To Go app
  • Exchange your own surplus food with others on the Olio app

Not everyone has time, energy and resources to adopt new habits that will reduce their personal food waste. The big changes we need will have to come from wholesale system change, not individual behaviour change.

Support organisations working on food waste

  • Feedback is a campaign group working to regenerate nature by transforming our food system
  • This is Rubbish works to reduce industry and supply chain food waste in the UK and beyond
  • Trussell Trust is a food bank charity that aims to “create a UK without the need for food banks”

System change is needed

I first became interested in food waste after reading David Evans’ book. He makes the case that it is not just the individual that is responsible for food waste. Our political structures, social practices and material possessions all have a major part to play.

Part of that is the government policies in place that regulate and manage waste in the food system. But it is also much broader: it is the supermarkets that put such high pressure on farms to make sure their shelves are filled to the brim 24/7 with food that looks perfect; it is the same companies that encourage consumers to overbuy food. It is the objects in our homes like the fridge that are not designed to best suit our needs. It is the lack of sustainable waste streams like community composting, and the emphasis on redistributing excess food to food banks, which justifies food waste instead of tackling the root causes of food poverty.

Like heating, travel, clothing and other sectors with high emissions, system change is where the most difference can be made for food waste. Individual behaviour change is important, but until we live in a sustainable society, implementing sustainable actions will be really hard. Government campaigns and companies that tell us to live better are asking us to swim against the tide. This blog strongly advocates for wholesale change, so adopting sustainable habits and behaviours is easy and cheap (and even just the default action) for everyone.

How do we get there? More research will help…

Food waste has only been studied since 2006-7. In comparison, academia about recycling and other waste was ignited in the mid-20th century when the environmental movement took off around the globe. In other words, food waste is lagging 30-40 years behind.

At the beginning, studies mainly focused on how much food waste being wasted. Only around 2010 did academics start asking WHY people waste food. Part of that is first understanding the barriers to reducing food waste. Which brings me to…

Contribute to this blog!

Head to Your stories to add your experience with food waste, whether it is a useful tip, a change you’ve made, something you struggle with or other observations.

Published by foodwastestories

Sharing stories to tackle root causes of food waste. Plus food waste tips, long reads, and reviews! Follow on Instagram @foodwaste.stories

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