Key Climate Solution: Ending Food Waste

April 1, 2018

University of California:

Two important statistics help frame any discussion about food waste: 1.3 metric gigatons of edible food goes to waste every year and at least 795 million people are undernourished worldwide.

These numbers are nearly impossible to envision, but the general takeaway is this: as millions go hungry, we continue to waste perfectly good food on an enormous scale.

The issue goes beyond hunger: Producing the food we waste takes land, water, labor and other valuable resources. To add insult to injury, food waste is a major source of greenhouse gases, mostly in the form of methane, a pollutant at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

When we talk about climate pollution, we tend to focus on power plants, transportation and industry. If we think about food at all, it’s generally cows and their – ahem – “emissions.” Wasted food often gets overlooked, but according to an assessment by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 6.7 percent of all global greenhouse gases come from food waste.

How big is the problem of food waste?

If 6.7 percent sounds small, here’s one way to put it into perspective. Imagine that all the world’s food waste came together to form a country. It wouldn’t be a very popular country to live in, but it would have an outsize impact on everyone else: the nation of, Food Waste would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the U.S.

Just how big is the country of Food Waste? According to the FAO, the land devoted to producing wasted food is roughly 5.4 million square miles, which would make it the second largest country in the world behind Russia. That’s an area equivalent to Central America, Mexico, plus the lower 48 states and a big part of Canada used for nothing but producing food we don’t eat.



41 Responses to “Key Climate Solution: Ending Food Waste”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Yeah. Happy Easter!

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        The very first link I chased down in that article (claiming neurotoxicity of glyphosate at small levels) was bullshit. I’ll check a few more, but I’ve come to expect hyperbolic fearmongering when it comes to anything to do with the Monsanto corporation.

        • Sir Charles Says:

          The very first article is about arsenic, and this is indeed a neurotoxin.

          The World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency is firmly defending its finding that a widely used herbicide is “probably carcinogenic”.

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            I was referring to the first link I checked from this sentence:
            “Glyphosate herbicides do not dry, wash or cook off and they have been proven to be *neurotoxic*, carcinogenic, endocrine disruptors and a cause of liver disease at very low levels.”

            The “neurotoxic” link goes to a study published in the journal Toxicology, and describes “acute and chronic” dosing of pregnant mice, which is NOT “very low levels”. The “carcinogenic” link goes to an AgMag article which then points to a meta-analysis of various pesticides and the increased risk of B-cell lymphoma from *occupational exposure* which is also NOT “very low levels”.

            Please note that I am not against assessing the risks of products marketed by for-profit corporations, but I have been sent too many articles by “all-natural” friends or family which grossly misinterpret studies in terms of (1) actual risk they are measuring, (2) poorly structured studies, or (3) risks relative to real-world conditions and without consideration of benefits. These acquaintances conflate GMOs with the behavior of corporations that control them, they falsely believe “organic” produce is not grown with pesticides, and they are more freaked out by unfamiliar chemical terms (think “dihydrogen monoxide”) than the untested supplements they suck down at high rates.

            I did not check how the levels of As measured compared with the damage from EtOH.

          • Sir Charles Says:

            I think you have a comprehension problem when you’re reading, rhymeswithgoalie.

            The sentence you’re referring now reads:”Glyphosate herbicides do not dry, wash or cook off and they have been proven to be neurotoxic, carcinogenic, endocrine disruptors and a cause of liver disease at very low levels.”

            And yes, the article links to a study with the title: “Multiomics reveal non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats following chronic exposure to an ultra-low dose of Roundup herbicide

            You should learn to properly read a sentence before you start complaining. Saves you from embarrassing yourself.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        This is reminiscent of Food Babe thinking: Beverages deliberately made with high amounts of the carcinogen and neurotoxin EtOH might have detectable amounts of glyphosate. Fetch me my smelling salts!

  2. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    Happy Easter.

    Of all the money I have spent on the garden, the compost tumbler was a relatively late investment. It should have been the first, not only does it reduce waste but the garden is so much better.

    So feed the people, feed the animals, feed the garden; waste is a waste on so many levels. No food product should end up in landfill.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    “the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 6.7 percent of all global greenhouse gases come from food waste.”

    1) I would advise caution when quoting from the FAO – they have been known to inflate emissions contributions extravagantly before. Just sayin’.

    The numbers in the graphic from UofC are evidently world-wide and really do not correspond to the situation in the U.S. and Europe, where, for example, transportation is now the largest GHG emitting sector.

    2) One has to wonder how much all these numbers about various greenhouse contributions are dependent on fossil fuel use that will disappear once we convert the transportation sector to EVs.

    3) One also has to wonder how much numbers like those attributed to methane release from food waste would occur even if we did not grow that food in the first place. There is a not insignificant amount of methane production that happens naturally as vegetation rots. And methane release from food waste has got to be completely dwarfed by methane release from permafrost, lake bottoms etc due to AGW itself.

    4) It’s food. We are going to grow it. There will always be waste. I don’t see any way to stop it – it is a billion teeny contributions every day from almost everyone on the planet. It is normal.

    5) Not that we can’t do two things at once, but…… This is small potatoes compared to the burning of fossil fuels. And we have not made much of a dent in that:

    And THAT is the elephant in the room, isn’t it? Everything else is a distraction.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    Hey Russian trolls. You can stop pretending to like my comments. I’m not following you to your sex sites. I’m not interested in catching viruses from you.

  5. Gingerbaker Says:

    Hear hear. I got that too. The internet just keeps inventing new ways to coat travelers with toxic slime. 😦

  6. L RACINE Says:

    Back in the 1970, Paul Erlich wrote “The Population Bomb”. During that time the “Green Revolution” hit full stride and prevented the outcome predicted in that book, mass starvation.

    The Green Revolution is INTENSELY fossil fuel dependent… ie “beau-coup green house gas emissions per consumed calorie” The waste discussed in this article is just one small part of the the overall issue/problem.

    The real issue is that you cannot feed the current global population without the intensive use of fossil fuel.

    Laws of physics can be a bitch… Energy is neither created nor destroyed. The Green Revolution converts the BTU’s in Fossil Fuel to consumable calories…… (minus many of the important trace minerals needed for health).

    I have been working/building on a closed loop permaculture food forest on 80 acres in central Florida for the the past 4 years. Yes is it very abundant but no where near the productivity of calories from a factory farm… I do not have the energy input they do, it is closed loop. My produce is nutrient dense and I work at building my top soil/mycelium. Every thing goes back into the soil.

    • Lizard Breath Says:

      You are overstating the need for fossil fuels in agriculture in order to sustain yields and disregarding the long term negative effects of conventional agriculture on soil and ecosystems.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Overstating? The Green Revolution would not have occurred without synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which are typically produced from fossil fuels (with a lot of CO2 left over).

        • Lizard Breath Says:

          You misunderstand me. The key phrase was “in order to sustain yields [in the future]” – I’m talking about Racine’s claim that green revolution technologies are the only way to feed the planet in the future. Yes, the green revolution relies on huge inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. No, those green revolution technologies are not the only way that we will be able to feed 10 million people. Indeed, the green revolution technologies destroy soil, damage ecosystems, and make farmland less resilient to climate change and could well lead to a crash in agricultural outputs. The linked article describes a meta-analysis that indicates organic, along with other technologies like GMO for drought resistance, can do the job. I hope this is clearer. It certainly is more verbose.

          • L RACINE Says:

            LB Thank you for the link to SA article and the embedded link to the study “Comparing the yields of organic verses conventional agriculture” (which I enjoyed reading and concur with their findings).

            Now, I no way made the claim that “green revolution technologies are the only way to feed the planet in the future. ” Those are your words NOT mine, please in the future quote me accurately!

            I explained that I was personally working on ways developing ways to produce food in a carbon neutral manner… and I shared my own experience.

            But what I would like to draw your attention to is the conclusion of the SA article.

            “But there is unlikely to be a simple solution. ”


            “Given the current precarious situation of agriculture, we should assess many alternative management systems, including conventional, organic, other agro-ecological and possibly hybrid systems to identify the best options to improve the way we produce our food.”

            None of these are “proven” to work, ie that they will feed the global population undergoing sever and rapid climate change.

            You are counting on untested and unproven avenues to resolve this up coming humanitarian crisis!

            You are attempting to silence voices that are bring a spot light to this issue with the meme “don’t worry future technology will find a way to fix it”……

            IMHO this is extremely rash and irresponsible.

            And these articles don’t even begin to discuss the effects of increased extreme variability of the weather (climate change) on food productions…

          • Lizard Breath Says:

            Oy. Now you’re putting words in my mouth. I summarized the article by saying “organic, ALONG WITH OTHER TECHNOLOGIES like GMO for drought resistance, can do the job”. I in no way stated or implied that organic could do the job alone.

          • Lizard Breath Says:

            Another interesting article comparing sustainability of organic to conventional. I won’t risk paraphrasing it.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      We can make EV’s that go 300 miles on a charge, and Tesla is going to make a semi that can pull 80,000 pounds for hundreds of miles, but we can’t make a tractor that will run 50 miles a day?

      If farming is so gosh-darn fossil fuel-dependent doesn’t that mean farmers would LOVE the fuel savings when they switch to an electric tractor?

      • Sir Charles Says:

        Most of the fossil fuels aren’t burnt by tractors. It’s the fertiliser production which eats up the most. And you must be a damned good PR person if you want to make a farmer change to organic farming.

        • L RACINE Says:

          There are two different types of farmers out there…. family farms and corporate farms.

          Family Farms are about resilience, practices that sustain life and the farm, (yes these means earning enough money to pay the bills but it is much deeper). And obviously if you look at the data, the family farms that embrace the current “farming practices”, die, they cannot make ends meet.

          Corporate Farms… well that is a whole different story… net profitable rules every decision, and really nothing else matters.

  7. Ellustar Says:

    Reblogged this on SEO.

  8. […] via Key Climate Solution: Ending Food Waste — Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

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