Environmental Impacts from Food Waste

Sarah Simon

12 min Read Time | September 16th 2021

Key Takeaways

1

Food waste is a big contributor to climate change, particularly in the form of GHG emissions during degradation. It affects society in multiple ways, including exacerbating world hunger and impacting the economy.

2

The absolute volume of food waste needs to be quantified, if possible from the entire food production process, or at the end of life.

3

Efforts to minimize waste, reuse or recycle food, convert food to energy, and other mitigation strategies can be discussed, whilst being critical about the success of those measures and the absolute impact.

Executive Summary

Food waste is generated during the preparation process as well as by unconsumed food. 

Food loss and waste represent a loss of resources used in food production, which include land, water, energy, and agricultural chemicals. 

Additionally, food waste can generate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during landfill decomposition. Food loss and waste also highly contribute to food insecurity and hunger.

The analysis should discuss the absolute amount of food wasted by the company to show the scale. Then, it should demonstrate the environmental impacts food waste has on the planet, and how long-lasting and detrimental these impacts are to show the depth and persistence.

Secondary to the analysis, discuss what social impacts food waste has on the economy (financial loss) and on hunger (number of people this amount could have fed).

Finally, mitigation efforts should be evaluated if relevant, such as converting food to energy.

    What is it?

    Nearly one-third of food produced is discarded before consumption. More than 50% of food waste occurs during the upstream process such as production, handling, etc., with the rest happening during downstream processes such as distribution, consumption. It can happen due to oversupply of the market, retailers throwing out edible food they consider subpar, consumers throwing it out, and others.

    The environmental impacts are large, as it has an effect on many areas of the environment, including but not limited to, climate change and natural resource depletion.

    One-quarter of GHG emissions result from food waste - as it degrades, it emits gases up to 25 times more harmful than CO2 emissions.

    The impacts are due not solely to the degradation of food products in landfills, but also to the processes involved in producing food such as water use, land-use change, and energy consumption.

    Nearly 800 million people suffer from malnutrition worldwide. With the population expected to increase by 2.3 billion people by 2030, food production would have to increase by 56% to feed this growing population. However, the current food production is sufficient to feed the world’s population twice over, if it was all used effectively rather than wasted.

    Nearly one-third of food produced is discarded before consumption. Power imbalances in the supply chain are largely responsible for the continued waste, with large-scale companies dictating how food is produced and processed, externalising waste to the producers and consumers alike.

    The economic burden of food waste is roughly USD940 billion annually, rising to USD2.6 trillion when accounting for the cost of environmental issues. Food waste has a significant impact on the market; higher waste influences demand in such a way that causes rising food stock prices, causing risk to people with minimum income who cannot afford to spend more on food.

    Sources

    ​​https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/international-efforts-wasted-food-recovery

    Food Waste: why it's bad

    The Environmental Impact of Food Waste | Move For Hunger

    Environmental impacts of food waste: Learnings and challenges from a case study on UK

    Economic, social and environmental world impacts of food waste on society and Zero waste as a global approach to their elimination

    The Social Impact of Food Waste

    Community social capital and status: The social dilemma of food waste

    E SDG PRINT 12

    SDG choice

    Impact assessment

    This topic assesses the environmental impact attributed to companies from food waste, including the social impacts.

    The impact assessment should include the absolute amount of food wasted, what kind of environmental impacts it has on the planet, how long the impact lasts and how detrimental it is.

    As a secondary point, the analysis should discuss social impacts food waste has on both hunger and the economy, how long these effects will last and how detrimental they are.

    To this aim, the analysis should include not only the amount of food waste produced, but also where along the chain most of the food is wasted, what kinds of food are wasted, and whether there are any measures in place to minimise the impact.

    In your analysis, you should assess both the preparation process as well as throwing out food at the end-of-life.

    The Impact Note needs to discuss the absolute amount of food wasted, the You can address remediation methods if applicable, such as efforts to reduce the total amount of food waste or to redistribute food where needed, but be sure to critically evaluate how successful these initiatives are, whether they are genuinely minimizing impact or serving more as greenwashing.

    The analysis should contain a discussion of the entire process of food production the company is responsible for, not just the waste of the final product.

    You can include mitigation efforts where it is relevant.


    Introduction

    In the introduction, you should include:

    • What impacts food waste has on the environment and on society

    • How much food is wasted globally

    • If applicable, you should talk about the industry of the company, how much food waste is generated by this industry.

    • If relevant, the different types of food waste and/or when food is wasted (such as during preparation/storage etc) contribute different effects to the environment


    Read more on how to build a strong introduction in this article.


    Core Analysis


    The core shall prove the aforementioned issue at stake, tangibly proving how the intrinsic rights of people and their assets were impacted by the company.

    This topic addresses a company's involvement in human rights violations, including but not limited to livelihood destructions, land-grabbing, systematic discrimination, violence, human trafficking, and forced displacement. These acts stem from a company's direct involvement in any activity that hinders peoples' and communities' intrinsic rights and complicity through any acts of human rights violations committed by third parties.

    In the core analysis, you should address:

    • The absolute amount of food wasted by the company

    • How much of the food waste is going to landfill or being incinerated, etc.

    • In what stages of the value change is the food being wasted

    • Benchmark the quantity to the industry average or to the average of three main competitors, and how much this accounts for out of the total food waste in a given country or globally (depending on the geographical locations).

    • Put the total amount of food waste into context, such as how many people would have been fed, and how much this represents in economic losses.

    • Similarly, the total amount of food waste sent to landfill should be contextualised by looking into how many GHG emissions it likely causes, or similar analysis of environmental effects.

    • Mitigation efforts, such as waste reduction initiatives, converting food waste to energy, and/or treating it in a less harmful way.


    Caution: this topic is not about general waste production and management - it should only address the waste of food specifically, touching about the environmental impacts as the focus, and how many people could have been fed and the economic burden as a secondary point.




    To describe the scale of the impact, taking into account:

    1/ The breadth of the impact

    • Is the impact local, national, or global?

    • How many people are concerned? Thousands? Millions? Billions?

    2/ The depth of the impact

    • Is the life of people concerned deeply affected, or does the issue just marginally impact them?

    • Are the changes brought by the issue profoundly changing society or the planet?

    3/ The persistence of the impact

    • How long would the impact described last for? Months? Years? Decades?

    • How reversible is the impact described in the impact analysis? Can it be easily stopped/extended?


    In your analysis, make sure you add value to your readers and go beyond the company’s CSR report by not merely reporting data from the company’s report but going the extra mile of providing additional metrics, studies, and sources to make your analysis robust and the impact value and scale are clear.

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