The 12th Sustainable Development goal of the United Nations is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. There has been some notable improvements across this area since this goal was set out, but we still have a very long way to go.
It is no secret that supermarkets, restaurants and other businesses throw out food that is still edible every single day due to it being past its sell by date, damage to the food or packaging, or just simply to make room for fresher and more sellable food. It is estimated that in the UK alone, the amount of food wasted by companies is over 3 million tonnes which is enough to create roughly 7 billion meals.
Not only is overproduction creating colossal amounts of avoidable food waste that could've fed billions of people, but it is also damaging to the environment. As food decomposes in landfills, it creates greenhouse gas. Food that decomposes without oxygen due to being buried under several layers of waste creates methane which traps even more greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Not to mention the amount of plastic waste from the food packaging.
Although businesses are undoubtedly a massive contributor of food waste, we, the consumers, are also guilty of creating unimaginable amounts of waste. Food waste from households makes up 70% of the food wasted in the UK which is the equivalent of roughly 10.5 billion meals.
On average, each household wastes almost £1000 of food per year with the most common type of food being fruit and vegetables. If we are buying more than we use or need, we create a cycle of events that are catastrophic for the environment. Overconsumption leads to demand for more food to be produced which means water and energy is wasted making food that will never be eaten. Fuel is wasted in the farming and delivery process, and more land is needed for farming, factories and warehouses to produce food that will ultimately be wasted.
What can we do?
Planning our meals before shopping and creating shopping lists ensures that we only buy what we need which saves both food waste and money. Saving leftovers and freezing food, as well as composting benefits your bank account as well as the environment. If you have the space and time, growing your own fruit and vegetables is a much cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to consume them and anything leftover from your grow can be used as compost to continually benefit your garden, all while reducing demand for supermarket food.
Supermarkets and other food related businesses can reduce their waste by cutting down on how much food they produce and donate any excess instead of sending it straight to landfills. Selling 'wonky' fruit and vegetables at a discounted price is already practiced at many supermarkets which is making a positive impact as historically perfectly edible fruit and veg had been rejected by suppliers simply due to the fact they were shaped differently.
If we stop over consuming, supermarkets will likely stop overproducing, and the environment and our wallets will thank us for it.