Every year, roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food. This includes almost half of all fruit and vegetables produced – it’s as if we threw away 4 trillion apples every year. Consumers are behind most of the waste, as it occurs after the food gets from the grocery store to the home. But grocery stores throw away huge amounts too, especially bread, fresh fruit and vegetables. These products are not so easy to redistribute because they have to get out to people while they are fresh.
That food is wasted at every stage from farm to table, sometimes just because of how it looks. In fields, unpicked, “ugly” produce is left to rot. In grocery stores, workers reject blemished (but edible) fruits and veggies. And in our own homes, we ignore leftovers and throw out perishables before they’ve expired. Food waste is a moral issue — as National Geographic points out, this wasted food could feed the nearly 800 million people who are starving worldwide twice over.
The products that make up most of the waste are bananas, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, sweet peppers, pears and grapes. They represent nearly half of the total waste. Bananas are the worst – as everybody knows, the fruit goes from yellow to overripe quite fast. Sweet bell peppers and tomatoes can be used in all sorts of dishes, but they come in third and fourth place with regard to the economic losses they represented for the supermarkets. The foods that we waste the most and that have the greatest economic consequences for the stores they are sold in are lettuce and fresh herbs. Lettuce alone amounted to seventeen percent of the costs of wasted fruit and vegetable.
Healthy eaters have a lot to be proud of in their nutrient-packed diets, but a health-conscious diet may have a planet-harming downside: these eaters may be wasting more food than those who stick to less-healthy options. Because the produce they buy goes bad faster than boxed mashed potato, they ending up tossing more food than those who primarily eat things in brightly colored boxes and bags.
Education on how to prepare and store food and how to tell the difference between spoiled food and food that’s damaged but still edible could also help reduce waste. On an individual level, being aware of the issue of food waste and planning shopping and meals accordingly can make a difference.