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Editor’s Blog: Why is Food Waste Increasing?

May 24, 2022

Today's guest blog is authored by Joe Gillard, Editor-in-Chief of MSW Management. The original post can be read here.

One-third of the world’s food is wasted.  

Being a planet with a lot of food waste is not really a good look when you’re also a planet home to a species with malnourished among them, is it?  

Oh yeah, and food waste contributes to 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. 

And it’s projected that food waste will increase by a third in less than 10 years. By 2030, we will be tossing out 72 tons each second. That’s what they say

But…why is it getting worse? 

Obviously, population growth means more food is produced, shipped, and consumed, with the accompanying waste along for the ride. 

I wanted to know if there were other causes, though.  

It turns out that as countries develop, more disposable income means more opportunities for waste. So people worldwide make more money (good) and then buy more food than they can eat or give away (bad). 

Developing countries are developing, and thus following a similar trajectory to the developed countries. 

One might expect to see consumer issues we face in the U.S. become global issues. You know, buy one eight-pound top round roast, get another (of equal or lesser value) for free. Then put roast number two in the freezer, where it patiently waits for fridge clean-out day circa 2026 and a trip to the landfill to decompose.  

Also, side note: with that top round, make a stew or a stir fry with it! Don’t use it for dinner steaks like Grandpa did. It’s too tough. You’ll eat four bites and throw it away.  

The big 2018 food waste report from Boston Consulting Group lays out some additional causes including supply-chain infrastructure/efficiency which aren’t always optimal in developed economies, let alone emerging markets. Poor refrigeration is one example. 

But Liz Goodwin, a food waste expert at the World Resources Institute, says that what’s at the heart of the matter, this global increase, is cultural. She believes people are increasingly looking for convenience, and that younger generations lack cooking skills. You go out to eat, and don’t eat the free bread on the table, and don’t finish your dessert that you were pressured by the well-meaning server to order, and it gets thrown away, day after day. 

Am I part of the younger generations? I don’t know. I must be, because I lack cooking skills. I buy cheap and easy food. But my wife, through some kind of magic, is able to turn a root vegetable I’ve never even heard of into two days’ worth of varied and delicious meals. But I think she’s the exception, not the rule. 

To start seeing less food waste in the bins, it’s going to (once again) come down to global collaboration and awareness, better technology and efficiency, and a cultural shift. It’s that last one that’s sometimes the trickiest. 

Now go eat that top round stew, or meatless equivalent, and savor every bite. And I’ll try to do the same. 

Disclaimer: Guest blogs represent the opinion of the writers and may not reflect the policy or position of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc.

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