Johannesburg - A quarter of all food being produced in the world goes to waste – even as about a billion people in the world go hungry.

This was the sobering theme behind Wednesday’s World Environment Day, with environmental organisations around the world calling for consumers to think before scraping the scraps from their plates.

In a working paper released by the World Resources Institute, researchers detailed that for every four calories being produced, one is disappearing in the food chain from producer to consumer.

More than half the food wasted in developed regions like the US, Europe and Australia was down to consumers consciously throwing their food away, be it leftovers or an expired loaf of bread.

The picture is different in the developing world.

Here, most food is lost before it even reaches the consumer – damaged and discarded during harvesting, packaging and transporting.

In South Africa, this results in 9 to 10 million tons of food being lost each year, says Council for Scientific and Industrial Research waste researcher Dr Suzan Oelofse.

“In South Africa, the emphasis is not so much on buying things and throwing out what we don’t eat,” she said.

“A lot of what is wasted is happening in the handling and storage phases, where vulnerable food sources like fruit and vegetables are damaged in the process, or during processing and packaging where aesthetically displeasing food with spots or marks is thrown out.”

This loss in food was unacceptable in a country facing food insecurity, she added.

“How can you justify throwing out food that is perfectly good to eat when there are people going hungry?”

Meanwhile, food waste in landfills rots away, producing methane gas, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Studies attribute about a 10th of all methane emissions to the landfills.

And all the resources behind producing the food disappear, too.

“Water, electricity, fertiliser – all of that is wasted if the food gets wasted,” said Oelofse.

 

HOW YOU CAN DO YOUR BIT

Most food loss in South Africa happens before a meal even reaches your plate. But as a consumer, there are things you can do to help reduce your waste:

1. Plan your shopping: before hitting the grocery store, check how much of each ingredient you’ll need. Can you cook a meal with the ingredients already in your cupboards? Don’t buy more than you need to make your meal.

2. Size down your portions: pile less on your plate. The uneaten food will simply be thrown away. Rather, opt to go back for a second helping if you’re still hungry.

3. Embrace leftovers: store them, freeze them, and enjoy them at a later date.

4. Buy locally: if you buy from a local grower, you’re immediately cutting out most of the distribution chain, where much of the food waste in South Africa occurs.

5. Eat in season: out-of-season treats have to be packaged and stored. Instead, choose the foods that are abundant right now. - The Star