When we think of living in an eco-friendly way, most of us consider the car we drive or how we recycle the packaging of the food we eat. But what about the food we waste? Food can take many months to get to our dining table – and can use lots of water and energy on its way. This, inevitably, has a direct effect on our planet. In addition, there is a huge loss of biodiversity resulting from creating the space to produce the food we eat. Here we will look at these factors in more detail.
Water is a key component of food production. Growing crops requires large amounts of water, as does feeding the animals needed to produce meat and dairy products. By wasting food, we also waste millions of gallons of water needed to grow and maintain the food sources. The production of meat uses a particularly large amount of water. Not only does the animal itself drink a lot of water over the course of its life, but the grain used to feed them requires lots of water too! It is estimated that by throwing 1kg of beef in the trash we are throwing away 50,000 liters of water that was used to produce it, whilst wasting one glass of milk wastes 1000 liters of water – quite incredible figures.
Non-renewable fossil fuels, such as oil, are also used to grow, transport and cook food. From harvesting machinery to transporting the food, often internationally, a large amount of fossil fuels may be needed. As with water, by wasting the food, the fuels that were used in production have been wasted too – their use has been pointless.
Wasting food also uses space – pre and post dinner-plate. Food that gets wasted typically ends up in landfill where it will take varying lengths of time to decay depending on the foodstuff. One of the largest landfills in the world is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Apex Regional Landfill covers a vast 2200 acres and 10,500 tons of waste per day (not all food waste, of course).
Whilst being produced, livestock and crops use millions of hectares worldwide. When food is wasted this space is used for no purpose. Around one-third of the planets agricultural land area is used to grow food that is eventually wasted.
Loss of biodiversity
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life found in a habitat. It includes the animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms that make up our rich and amazing world.
Deforestation – the clearing of forest areas by humans – for the sole purpose of increasing land for food production has a marked effect on biodiversity in an area. Tropical areas are particularly affected due to their especially rich diversity (approximately two-thirds of the planets biodiversity is supported here!) compared to temperate regions – deforestation here results in a devastating loss of biodiversity. Animals can lose their habitat and if unable to relocate it can eventually lead to their extinction. Tree species that are cut down may also be lost forever. Furthermore, with increasing amounts of land being used for pastures – as the number of livestock grazing in an area increases, the less diverse the area will be.
Methane gas release
During the landfill decay process food waste will release methane, a greenhouse gas. These types of gases are thought to have an impact on the earth’s temperature and climate. Methane is also released during the production process – by wasting the food as well, this is compounding the problem!
The methane gas production will potentially lead to a loss of biodiversity too – it is estimated by scientists that in only 50 years, more than 30% of all plant and animal species could be extinct due to the climate change caused, in part, by greenhouse gases. In our lifetime we could be looking at huge changes to biodiversity if we do not act.
The bottom line
Wasting food costs us money – but many people don’t consider, or simply are unaware, the cost to the environment. From the water and fuel used to the loss of biodiversity, it all takes its toll on the environment and is slowly eroding our wonderful planet. Try to keep this in mind when you scrape your over-sized portion leftovers in the bin or leave your apples to spoil just because you didn’t fancy eating them! You can do several things to reduce your household waste – if everyone does their bit, we can limit the amount of food waste and, in turn, the environmental impact it has.