Solutions journalism is news about how communities and organizations are responding to social and environmental problems. The solutions stories in this collection describe new technologies, laws and cultural shifts that are helping make food waste a thing of the past. Learn how top chefs in Britain have started a movement to cook with "expired" foods; about legislation in South Korea to reduce food waste; and about new technologies that make it possible to track fruits as they ripen, convert food waste into electricity, and keep food fresh for longer in solar-powered "Cold Hubs." Finally, read about two grocery store owners in the Netherlands who opened a restaurant with an entire menu based solely on food that otherwise would have gone to waste.
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Want to use some or all of these stories in a classroom or community setting? Here are some questions to get you started. Or make a copy of this collection and create your own.
- Why does food waste have such a major impact on carbon reduction?
- What are the main sources of food waste in wealthier countries and in countries that we often refer to as developing nations. What are the key strategies for reducing food waste in both, and how and why do they differ?
- What role does governmental regulations play in this issue?
- Do you know how much food you waste? Identify the food or type of food at the top of that list and think about why it goes to waste and what you might do to reduce that waste.
- Does your community or campus have a food waste reduction program? If so, how does it work? Is it successful?
- Explain how the energy associated with food waste increases as you move through the supply chain.
- (Group Project) Design a food waste reduction system for your home, community or campus. What are its key elements? What are its reduction targets?
Approximately one-third of all food produced globally goes to waste. For many people, reducing food waste might simply mean better shopping and meal planning. But since food waste also occurs from farm to fork, that means there are also systemic opportunities for improvement. According to a study by the Center for Behavior and the Environment, composting and reducing food waste are among the seven most impactful actions that individuals and households in the United States can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Project Drawdown attributes 8 percent of total global emissions to just the food we waste.
Here are answers to the discussion questions:
- A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. In the United States, almost 40 percent of all food produced is wasted. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in a landfill. Food waste accounts for approximately 8 percent of global carbon emissions.
- Western Countries: Restaurants, retailers, end-user spoilage; Developing Nations: End-user spoilage, storage waste, market forces. Entrepreneurs and social innovators are working to tackle the issue, backed by socially-conscious consumers who support a UN target to halve food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030. Some chefs have used their celebrity status to raise awareness or campaign for new regulations. Others have launched concept restaurants, soup kitchens, and social enterprises that turn waste into meals. In February 2016, France became the first country in the world to prohibit supermarkets from throwing away unused food. Now, supermarkets of a certain size must donate unused food or face a fine. Other policies require schools to teach students about food sustainability, companies to report food waste statistics in environmental reports, and restaurants to make take-out bags available. In America, OLIO and other food apps are making extra food available at the neighborhood level. In Tanzania, modern storage facilities, combined with farmer education on harvesting and market dynamics, have allowed farmers there to enhance their harvests, increase income, and avoid crop loss.
- It is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and efficacy of food distribution programs. It must verify adherence to protocols for ensuring safety, and enforcing the policies, procedures, and protocols established to ensure food safety in the market. Adhering to safety regulations while reducing food waste is one of the challenges facing this effort, and in many cases, modifying regulations would facilitate waste reduction programs.
- Answers will vary.
- Students will need to explore this issue outside of class, researching the local or institutional programs. It would generally require them to interview campus and community officials to access information.
- Each step in the production and distribution chains of food requires energy. Seeds must be purchased, planted, and watered. Crops must be harvested and stored. These raw materials must be transported, processed, and transported again. Then they must be converted to foodstuffs, which requires intensive energy. Subsequently, these foodstuffs must be transported and stored before their sale. The energy required at each step increases as the food approaches final sale, and the cumulative energy required also increases with the length of the production and distribution chains.
- Answers will vary.