Wasting food

G Magazine

World hunger aside, the environmental cost of food waste is also huge.

food waste

Credit: iStockphoto

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In the French documentary The Gleaners and I, director Agnès Varda shows us a mountain of potatoes: a giant brown pile of spuds squatting in an empty lot.

The potatoes, she tells us, are being dumped simply because they're the wrong size or shape. Heart-shaped potatoes are not acceptable.

It's a strong image of how much food is thrown away every day. At the World Food Summit in June 2008, the director-general of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf said, "in a single country, food wastage can amount to [US]$100 billion annually".

This excess seems even more appalling given that, as Diouf added, we only need US$30 billion (A$31 billion) to feed the world's hungry.

World hunger aside, the environmental cost is also huge. Environmental NGO Do Something!, using NSW Government food waste research stats, found that we throw out a whopping A$7.8 billion worth of food each year. Nearly half the household waste we discard is food.

When we toss our leftovers into the bin, they go the same way as any other rubbish: to landfill. Once there, they don't properly decompose because landfill is an oxygen-free environment. Instead, the food scraps ferment, producing methane - a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Yet, this is small potatoes compared with the impact of growing, producing and transporting food that is simply thrown away.

At every step, from the farm gate to the dinner table, food is wasted. Farmers discard imperfect fruit and vegetables, supermarkets order too much, restaurants over cater and individuals shop too enthusiastically and suffer from 'eyes too big for their tummies'.

And with more than a third of our eco-footprint attributable to our food choices, this waste makes a monumental difference to our planet. A British study reported that for every tonne of food waste avoided, a quantity of greenhouse gases equivalent to 4.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide is saved.

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