By Amy Bergley, Sustainability & Happiness Studies candidate at Arizona State University
In June 2016,I set out to study food waste practices and policy in the United Kingdom and Denmark. I wanted to understand what other countries were doing to combat food waste and how individual happiness was impacted. For six weeks, I lived in these countries and experienced their culture, while conducting field work. Much of my research involved interviews with different organizations working to fight food waste. During my travels, I gained a better understanding of the problem of food waste in each country and what was being done about it.
Food embodies culture, family, and a connectedness to nature. It brings people together and gives our bodies nutrients that we need to survive. Despite this, food is being wasted on a massive scale all over the world. In the United States it is estimated that around 40% of edible food is wasted each year (Gunders, 2012). This equates to a loss of about 180 lbs per person each year and a total monetary loss of $165 billion. Efforts have been made to reduce food waste in the US through programs like USDA’s Food Waste Challenge (USDA, 2016). Despite this, the issue of food waste still persists.
Denmark is further along in their fight against food waste than the United States. Deemed the European leader in the fight against food waste, Denmark was able to reduce their waste by 25% since 2010 (Facts About Food Waste, 2015). Denmark has also been named the happiest country in the world. United Kingdom is close behind Denmark, with a 21% reduction in their food waste (Marsh, 2015).
During my research project abroad, I created a vision for a community that does not experience food waste. My vision focused on three main categories. The first proactively limiting food waste from occurring in the first place. This would alleviate a lot of other issues down the line. The second is redistribution. Rather than putting the food in a landfill, it would be donated to food banks or used to feed animals. The final area is disposal. This would involve composting the food waste.
There are four main branches of the food system within the US. These branches are the farmer, the processor (companies which purchase food from farmers and turn it into a different food product such as soup or jam), the retailer, and the consumer (Gunders, 2012). Within my vision for a community, each of these branches must implement strategies to combat food waste. Below I outline how this would happen.
There are multiple areas in which food is commonly wasted on the farm. Produce which is visually imperfect (i.e. too small or blemished) typically does not leave the farm, despite the fact that it is edible to humans (The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign, 2016). What happens to it? Is it wasted? Does it go back into the land as compost? Often this food is left in the field and tilled under. The reason farmers don’t harvest visually imperfect produce is because it’s difficult to sell. Many stores will only accept produce that meets certain visual standards related to size and color.
My vision is that farmers would harvest all produce and take it to market. Visually imperfect produce would be sold at a reduced price in supermarkets. Farmers could also develop a secondary market for this type of produce, selling it to processors who could make it into soups, jams, and other processed food.
Processor and Retailer
The best way for the processor and retailer to prevent food waste is during transport. Food which is transported long distances can become damaged or overripe. This can lead to large quantities of food being sent to the landfill. This commonly occurs at the Nogales US-Mexico border crossing. Over half of the produce that’s grown in Mexico and imported into the US, comes through this border crossing (Morehouse, 2015). Some of the produce that comes through is rejected at the crossing and ends up in the landfill. There are organizations such as Borderlands Food Bank, which rescues the produce and redistributes it to those in need. However, they are not able to take everything and large quantities of food are still wasted.
My vision is that transportation of produce and other food products would be greatly reduced. Processors and retailers would get all of their food supply from local (within 200 miles) farmers. Not only would this drastically reduce food spoilage during transport, but it would support local farmers and the local economy.
Retail stores often carry a large selection of items. At Sprouts Farmers Market (a supermarket), you can find at least six different varieties of apple at any given time. On top of that, stores will often put a lot of product out at once in order to make produce look more appealing and bountiful. These factors combined can lead to food waste. In Denmark, there is less produce selection in the grocery stores. Often times you can only find one or two varieties of an item (apple, orange, peppers, etc). Likewise, the stores don’t overstock the shelves.. Some stores even run out of certain items such as produce and bakery bread by the end of the day. Reducing selection and not overstocking shelves decreases the chance of food being wasted due to spoilage. Another way to reduce this waste is by selling riper produce and older food items at a discounted price. This occurs in multiple supermarkets in the UK and helps sell older products before they must be thrown out.
My vision is that grocery stores in the US would follow Denmark’s example. They would sell less variety, not overstock the shelves, and decrease the price on older or blemished foods.
Another method grocery stores could prevent food waste - is - no longer providing carts and providing only using baskets for customers. In Copenhagen, a large portion of the population commutes on public transportation or bicycles.
|People gathering on a pier in Copenhagen, Denmark where many come on a bicycle.|
Personal cars can be a hassle to have in the city due to small streets and lots of traffic. This limits the amount of food a person can buy at one time from a supermarket. Whatever food they buy must fit on their bicycle basket or they must carry it. This means people often visit the supermarket more frequently and purchase fewer items than they might otherwise do if they had a car. Throughout Copenhagen, it is rare to find a store that offers carts. Baskets encourage people to only buy what they need and reduce impulse shopping, which in turn may reduce food waste.
|Rema 1000 - a popular grocery store in Copenhagen, Denmark|
Rema 1000, a popular supermarket in Denmark, stopped selling bulk items and no longer offer buy-one-get-one-free deals in their stores. They did this in an effort to reduce food waste at the consumer level within the country. This cut down on consumer over purchasing at their stores. Customers spend to purchase more than they need when they see deals such as buy-one-get-one-free, because Often times the extra food they buy goes unused and is eventually thrown out (Stopspildafmad).
My vision is that these strategies would be implemented to cut down on consumer impulse shopping and over purchasing; this would in-turn would prevent food waste from occurring.
I have already discussed what grocery stores can do to prevent food waste from occurring at the customer level above.There are things the customers can do to reduce food waste. These things include organizing their refrigerator so older items are at the front, making a list before going to the grocery store, cooking more at home rather than eating out, and using up leftover foods. All of these strategies can lead to increased happiness. For instance, reducing food waste can save money, lead to a healthier diet, and increase connectedness to nature. When food is thrown away, the money that went into purchasing that product is also thrown away. Likewise, if a person uses the food in their refrigerator instead of dining at restaurants, they can save money and reduce food waste. Strategies to reduce waste such as cooking and gardening, can bring a person closer to the food they eat and allow them to better understand the amount of resources which go into growing food. Studies have shown that people who cook most of their meals from home generally eat healthier (Wolfson, 2014). Gardening, even if it is just growing herbs, can relieve stress and provide physical exercise.
My vision is that , all of us would be proactive at preventing food waste by implementing these strategies. We would also notice the benefits that go along with reducing food waste and be more inclined to continue the behavior long-term.
There are times when creating some food waste can be difficult to avoid. These situations can occur at stores, when some food items don’t sell, or at catered events when too much food is prepared. In situations such as these, it is important that these food items are not thrown away but taken to a local food bank. or other organization which serves people in need. Any food that is not fit for human consumption can be donated to farms as animal feed. There are non-profit organizations in the UK, US, and Denmark which practice this redistribution of food. Wefood in Denmark is a supermarket which only sells rescued food items.
Food which would otherwise go to waste is donated to Wefood, where it is sold at a drastically discounted rate. This gives people access to food who might otherwise struggle to pay full price. Wefood donates a large portion of their proceeds to local charities.
In the UK, there are organizations such as Exeter Food Action which pick up excess food from grocery stores and re-distribute the food to soup kitchens and other charities which gives the food to those in need.
Both of these organizations provide food to those who might not otherwise get it. Not only is the food being kept out of the landfill, but it is being given to people who need it the most. In an ideal community, these types of organizations would exist. They would have easy access to the food in order to get it transported to those who need it. Any food that is not fit for human consumption can be sold to farmers at a highly reduced rate as animal feed. This will keep even more food from being wasted.
|Rescued food from Exeter Food Action morning pick-up|
|A London municipal food waste|
Within any food system, some waste is inevitable. Food that has spoiled is not fit for human or animal consumption. Food spoilage occurs at the farm, processor, retailer, and consumer levels. Spoiled food should be viewed as a resource, rather than waste. When spoiled food is composted, it can be used to put nutrients back into the soil. In communities across the UK food waste bins are collected by the city. This is also happening in Boulder, Colorado, Portland Oregon and Seattle, Washington.
My vision is that the food waste bins would be collected from residences and businesses. Each municipality would be in charge of collecting food waste. Each city or county would then have a processing facility put in place to turn the incoming food waste into a resource. This would be in the form of a composting facility which then sells compost to members of the community. With this in place, no food would go to the landfill.'
It will take time and work for my vision to come to pass. However, these changes are necessary to reduce the environmental impacts food waste is having on our planet. Food waste threatens ecosystem health, degrades soil, and reduces environmental quality. Food in a landfill creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. These changes are necessary in order to reduce the likelihood of future environmental consequences and increase the resilience of our food system.
Something personal here like. I believe these changes will happen, and my hopes and dreams are to work in this field to make these visions come true, community by community.
Facts About Food Waste. (2015). Retrieved March 2016, from United Against Food Waste: http://unitedagainstfoodwaste.com/facts-about-food-waste.html
Gunders, D. (2012, August). Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. Retrieved March 2016, from Natural Resources Defense Council: https://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf
Marsh, P. (2015, June 8). Food Waste in Denmark Down by 25 Percent. Retrieved March 2016, from CPH Post: http://cphpost.dk/news/food-waste-in-denmark-down-by-25-percent.html
Morehouse, L. (2015, April 10). Lunch, Not Landfill: Nonprofit Rescues Produce Rejected at U.S. Border. Retrieved October 2016, from NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/10/398345233/lunch-not-landfill-nonprofit-rescues-produce-rejected-at-u-s-border
Stopspildafmad. (n.d.). Stop spildaf mad: Food Waste: A Global Tragedy. Retrieved April 2016, from Stop Wasting Food: http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Mitmachen/Denkfabrik_und_Move/Move/Selina_Juul_Stop_wasting_Food.pdf
The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign. (2016). End Food Waste.org. Retrieved from http://www.endfoodwaste.org/ugly-fruit---veg.html
USDA. (2016). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved March 2016, from United States Department of Agriculture: http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm
Wolfson, J. (2014, November 17). Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Retrieved October 2016, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/news-room/News-Releases/2014/Study-Suggests-Home-Cooking-Main-Ingredient-in-Healthier-Diet.html