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How ending food waste helps alleviate natural disasters

The massive quantities of food and food industry-related material wasted every year is a major contributor to climate change, which means that food waste has spurred the frequency of natural disasters as well

Food waste is a significant factor driving climate change across the globe. The massive amount of unused food and food-related material, such as packaging, contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions. Its impact on climate change means that food waste also influences the frequency of natural disasters On both the individual and the business level, reducing food waste is a clear actionable step towards climate change and natural disaster solutions.

Table of contents:

1. What is food waste?

2. How are food waste and natural disasters linked?

3. What can your business do to reduce food waste?

3.1. Quality control/equipment maintenance

3.2. Improve your storage

3.3. Preserve byproducts

3.4. Reducing food waste in retail

What is food waste?

Lost or wasted food accounts for one-third of all food that is produced for humans to eat. That’s already a shocking number, but when considering the impact of unused food, it’s necessary to consider the resources that are involved in production. That means the energy, water, land, and transportation costs behind getting the food into your local supermarket.

All of these resources, combined with improper food disposal, account for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions. Though estimates differ slightly, they tend to attribute 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions to food waste. And in the United States, food disposal accounts for 24% of waste in landfills, which is more than any other single material.

You may also hear the term “food loss” in discussions about food waste and climate change. The difference between food loss and food waste is the point at which the food is discarded. Food loss refers to food that is disposed of as it moves along the supply chain, but before it gets to the retail stage. For example, damaged crops discarded at harvest, and not reused as animal feed, would be an example of food loss.

Food waste, on the other hand, describes food which is lost during and after retailing – i.e. by supermarkets, consumers, or the food service industry. Food waste occurs for a few different reasons, including:

  • Food items are not in their “best” condition; such as produce which is deemed misshapen, too small, or discolored
  • Foods approach their sell by/best before date and are thrown out early
  • Leftover food products, especially in restaurants, are thrown out before they spoil

Whatever the reason, food waste is a major problem. One of the reasons food waste is mentioned more often than food loss – besides the fact that it’s more visible – is that food waste, since it happens at the very end of a supply chain, represents a greater total carbon footprint. The further along your supply chain food products travel, the more resources have been used in producing it.

Different foods also have different carbon emissions. Though there is much more grain and vegetable waste than meat waste, meat requires more resources to produce and so wasted meat has a greater impact on climate change.

An example of well-packaged produce that avoids too much plastic

How are food waste and natural disasters linked?

The connection between food waste and natural disasters is the same as the connection between food waste and climate change. Food waste and food loss are significant contributors to climate change via their greenhouse gas emissions, as described above. And climate change is the major reason there has been such an increase in natural disasters over recent years.

Climate change not only causes more natural disasters, it exposes areas previously unaccustomed to disasters (like flooding or hurricanes) to these catastrophic events. As temperatures rise, more water vapor evaporates into the atmosphere, increasing the frequency of droughts and strengthening the impact of storms. Rising sea levels mean that higher locations are subject to these storms and floods as well.

There are countless examples of previously uncommon weather events tending towards a ‘new normal’ each year. In 2016 alone, several areas both in and outside the United States experienced atypical natural disasters, such as:

  • Flooding in Houston, Texas, which set a new rainfall record in the area
  • Heavy snowfall and flooding in Saudi Arabia, a result of rare below-zero temperatures
  • Massive snowfall in Hawaii, which led to a state of emergency being declared
  • The third-highest temperature ever recorded globally in Rajasthan, India

Crucially, most of these countries contribute heavily to global food waste, and that food waste contributes to the prevalence of disasters in those countries. One way this happens is through excessive water use; wasting freshwater on wasted agricultural products exacerbates already-existing water shortages that are poised to render entire countries uninhabitable by 2050. Food waste also emits methane, which contributes 21 times more to climate change than carbon dioxide does.

What can your business do to reduce food waste?

While it is true that food loss and waste occur at all stages of a supply chain, this also means that there are many opportunities for you to reduce food waste in your business. As with any problem, the first step to reducing food waste is knowing how much and where in the process food is being wasted. You can keep track of this easily using a food waste log to pinpoint areas for improvement.

It is best to reduce food waste as early in production as possible, to avoid spending so many resources on unused products. To that end, there are a few food waste solutions you can implement.

Quality control/equipment maintenance

A significant amount of food disposed of during manufacturing is rendered unusable either by faulty equipment or quality control issues. Malfunctioning equipment machinery can cause blockages in the production process, and fluctuations in power levels can lead to food becoming spoiled. Use equipment inspection and equipment maintenance checklists to ensure your machinery all functions correctly.

The most common example of quality control in food production is ensuring that any processed/frozen/premade food you produce is cooked correctly, since if it is under or overcooked, it cannot be sold. Define what a quality end product looks like and then make sure production processes are followed precisely.

Improve your storage

Many food items, especially produce, end up unusable because they are not stored well. For example, storing apples and bananas together will decrease their shelf life. And if you produce multiple types of food item, you need to be aware that they have different storage requirements.

The variance in humidity, exposure to light, temperature, and other factors that different ingredients require is why precise inventory management is so important. Knowing the items you have, the space they require, and their storage conditions is essential to reduce food waste.

Busy restaurant workers making and serving food to customers

Preserve byproducts

Your food business will always have some byproducts to contend with, no matter how efficiently you produce. The most common of these are green waste and packaging.

Instead of throwing green waste in a landfill, you can compost it for an easy, ecological, and cost-saving alternative. When food disposal happens in landfills, the green waste won’t break down properly and will become a pollutant; but composting off-site avoids this. And it also saves your business money – since composting their green waste, Nature Way Foods has saved over £65,000 a year.

Packaging is another area for improvement. You have the choice of returning unused packaging to your suppliers, adopting more eco-friendly packaging, or both. Returning packaging also benefits your suppliers, since it saves them money.

Switching to better packaging means using materials that will help your food last longer and are less environmentally harmful. This means using fewer laminated and composite plastics, and more recyclable/already recycled material. It’s also important that your packaging is clear about best before dates and proper food storage, to minimize waste at the consumer level.

Composting and changing your packing are food waste solutions that are essential to building a sustainable supply chain – in other words, a supply chain which has the least environmental impact possible.

Reducing food waste in retail

There are also several food waste solutions for businesses at the point of sale. In your retail store or restaurant, you can reduce food waste by:

  • Optimizing your orders. You’ll need to collect a lot of data, for example around customer buying patterns, for this, but ordering exactly the quantities and items that you need to keep consumers happy goes a long way towards reducing food waste
  • Store items correctly. Just like manufacturers, retailers and restaurants need to make sure their food is stored properly so it does not spoil. Inventory management systems like the first in, first out method can help you avoid keeping products for too long.
  • Donate leftovers. Instead of throwing unused food away, a better food disposal method is donating it, either to charitable organizations or via apps like Too Good To Go. This way, it gets redistributed to people who are still able to use it instead of ending up in a landfill.

Optimizing and minimizing your food waste is easier with a digital inspection platform like Lumiform. You can create and implement processes effortlessly with a wide range of manufacturing, restaurant, and quality control checklists, as well as track the amount of food waste you’ve generated. That makes identifying and addressing gaps in your operations much easier.

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