Worldwide, one kilogram is lost for every three kilograms of food. “Combating food waste is therefore just as important for the climate as eating less meat,” says Toine Timmermans, program manager for sustainable food chains at WUR.
But in a press release from the Dutch Academy of Food Sciences, Timmermans saw a striking statement about reducing food waste. “The environmental benefit is not that great, but there are no disadvantages either,” reads the report. Eating less meat would make a difference. This was said by professor of nutrition for a healthy life Ingeborg Brouwer, who works at the Free University of Amsterdam, according to the press release, in a public lecture entitled ‘Healthy food for a healthy planet’.
“Eating less meat is certainly good for the environment, but Professor Brouwer paints the picture here that it doesn’t do much to waste less food. I hear that more often, but it’s not correct,” replies Timmermans. According to him, worldwide figures show that both of these make influential contributions.
How much do we waste?
In 2019, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that 14 percent of food is wasted before it reaches the store. For fruit and vegetables, the percentage is slightly higher, for animal products slightly lower. “However, the environmental burden from animal products is much higher because the animals need land to graze and the rest of their food must be grown,” says Timmermans.
Every kilogram that is not wasted is a hundred percent gain for the environment
Not only before it reaches the consumer, but also afterwards, the waste is considerable. A further 17 percent is lost in households, shops and restaurants. That’s 74 kilos per person per year, an amount that doesn’t differ much between rich and poor countries. Altogether, FAO estimates global waste at 33 percent. WWF will even reach a percentage of forty percent by 2021.
Benefit from less waste
If the environmental benefit of less food waste is small, as Brouwers would have said, then wasting so much food would not do much for the environment. “That is precisely the point,” explains Timmermans. “According to the IPCC’s climate report for 2020, food systems are responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. In this way, the IPCC will achieve an eight to ten percent reduction in emissions if we no longer waste anything. Every kilogram that is not wasted is a 100 percent benefit for the environment.”
Less meat vs. less waste
Still, eating less meat is often seen as the big solution, notes Timmermans. After all, more plant-based food saves land, prevents deforestation and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Timmermans: “There’s a lot of attention on this nowadays, but it’s not the whole story. Fighting food waste contributes just as much. Because what you don’t waste, doesn’t have to be produced, which means you save a lot of land and raw materials. is much less well known.”
The two big solutions are: Eat more plant-based and avoid food going to waste
If half of the world’s population chose a more plant-based (80%) and less animal-based diet (20%), it would save 78.3 Gt CO2 units. This can also be calculated for food waste, in addition to committing to a more plant-based diet. If we can cut global waste in half, it will save 88.5 Gt CO2 units. “To say that we should eat less meat is therefore far too one-sided,” believes Timmermans. “Dozens of different solutions are needed, and the two big solutions are: Eat more plant-based and avoid food waste.”
On the right way
Food waste must also be halved by 2030. It is one of the UN’s global goals for sustainable development. Countries around the world are now making efforts to prevent losses during the harvesting, processing and transport of food and to make consumers aware of their own contribution to combating waste. In the Netherlands, the supermarket sector reduced losses from 1.7 percent to 1.6 percent between 2018 and 2020. Consumers have wasted 29 percent less food since 2013. Timmermans: “It is moving, but it can be done much better. And in the Waste Free Week on 12 .-September 18th we want to get the whole of the Netherlands to buy, cook and store waste-free. A simple action for a better climate.”