What is the impact of food waste on the environment? , Scientists answer Listen to this article

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) It is estimated that we throw away 1.3 billion tons of food every year. If we transfer this data to the economic sphere, we are talking about a trillion euros, in addition to 700,000 million euros of this food waste involved in environmental costs and about 900,000 million euros in social costs.

Citizens of developed countries are the first food waste in the food chain, as 53% of waste comes from households, followed by food processing (19%) and catering and restaurant services (12%). Some current eating habits such as over-purchasing, overcooking plates, throwing leftovers in the trash, poor food preservation or throwing away packaged products when their best-of-date, though not the expiration date, contributes. For these highly current statistics of food waste in the European Union.

This loss of food limits society’s ability to sustainably feed a growing population, which also makes it a moral problem, as more than a billion people (11% of the population) in the world are hungry. Regarding the dire environmental impact that you ask, the production of food releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change in addition to creating a waste of resources that are not infinite, such as water, land, marine resources, etc…, are used in the production of food, which is sometimes not consumed and goes to waste. Food wasted globally is estimated to account for 3.3 billion metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions and approximately 1.4 billion hectares of land use, which represents about 30% of the area covered by agricultural land in the world.

It is also worth noting the environmental impact of the resources used in the transportation, storage and packaging of waste food, which translates into unused consumption of energy, fuel, and the production of plastic waste or other materials used for packaging. Is. In the context of this last aspect, proper food preservation is, on many occasions, the best way to reduce waste and packaging can play a fundamental role here. The use of sustainable packaging that is able to extend the shelf life of food can make a significant contribution to reducing food waste and in this case the type of material used is crucial as it can reduce the environmental impact and the economy. can favor.

Finally, food waste also generates an environmental impact related to waste management, which means the transportation of said waste, the maintenance of landfills, the process of waste classification, in addition to the energy costs required in the facilities that manage this waste.

To solve this problem, O. within the framework ofSustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 12.3By 2030, global per capita food waste at retail and consumers should be halved, and food losses across production and distribution chains should be reduced, including post-harvest losses.

It is also proposed to promote production of biogas from food waste. Biogas is primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide, among other gases present in small amounts, and can be converted into biomethane, a gas equivalent to natural gas. In this way, it will be possible to recover CO2 and CH4 emitted from food waste, avoiding emissions into the atmosphere and reducing environmental impact. In Spain, studies of the energy efficiency of biogas have shown data between 20.1 and 34.5 TWh/year, meaning a savings of 10.6 – 12.6 Mt CO2 eq/year in greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, we aim to reduce greenhouse gases by 60% by 2030, for which biogas production can play an important role.

The actions of each of us can be decisive in reducing food waste, adapting our consumption habits, so we can favor protecting the environment, reducing world poverty and increasing food security.

Anna Beltran Sanahuja He is a Doctor of Chemistry, Professor and Researcher in the Department of Analytical Chemistry, Nutrition and Bromatology at the University of Alicante.

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