Food Waste: What, How, and Why

Updated: Nov 22, 2019




According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, an estimated 1/3 of all food produced globally is either lost or wasted. In 2011, about 3,600 tonnes of food waste were dumped in landfills every day.


Today we'll be exploring what food waste is, how it's created, and why it's important (its negative impacts).


Food loss vs Food waste


When there's food loss or food waste, it represents a waste of factors that went into producing it: labour, water, energy, land and other natural resources.


Food loss is the lost in the supply chain between the producer and the market. For example, a truck carrying avocados over-turning on the freeway would be a food loss. This can be caused by:

  • problems in the harvesting process

  • pest infestations

  • lack of structure within supply chain

  • markets

  • price mechanisms

  • legal frameworks

Food waste, by contrast, is the act of discarding leftover food or any food that is still safe and able to be consumed if not thrown out. This can be categorized by:

  • throwing food that is malformed or deemed not as typical shape/form

  • throwing food past its "best-by" or expiration date

  • large quantity of food purchased in bulk from large establishments who have too much/ no use


The problem of food waste and its negative impacts


Currently, approximately 3,600 tonnes -- or the equivalent weight of 250 double-decker buses -- of food waste is landfilled in Hong Kong daily. Food waste represents 35% of municipal solid waste (MSW) in Hong Kong, with its two main sources coming from 1) households food waste, and 2) commercial and industrial (C&I) food waste, from restaurants, hotels and wet markets, representing 13,3% of total MSW.


It is imperative that this colossal amount of food waste be rescued and redistributed, which can benefit not just the low-income families who spend almost half their income on food, but the environment as well: According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), “globally, if food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the U.S.” This takes into account the gas emitted for the production, transport and decomposition of food in landfills and not just the last stage in the landfills. When food waste is buried in landfills, this releases methane because there is no oxygen, unlike in a compost. Thus, rotten food represents 34% of all methane emissions, methane gas known to be 20 times more damaging to the environment than CO2.

Why we should care about reducing food waste

The United States Environmental Protection Agency writes the top 4 reasons why we should take an active step in reducing our food waste:


  1. Saves money from buying more food

  2. Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers carbon footprint

  3. Conserves energy and resources preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).

  4. Supports your community through food donations that would have otherwise gone to landfills


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