Sustainable Plates, Sustainable Planet: Tackling Food Waste to Combat Climate Change


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally each year. This amounts to around 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually, with significant environmental, social, and economic implications. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that food systems are responsible for up to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with food waste being a significant contributor. By reducing food waste, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Food waste management has become essential in the 21st century, as climate change continues to threaten the globe. This is a critical step towards a more sustainable future.  The link between food waste and climate change is undeniable, as improper food handling and disposal has a major negative impact on the environment. Therefore, it is essential to investigate how reducing food waste might be a key factor in promoting environmental sustainability and decreasing climate change.
The Environmental Impact of Food Waste

Food waste contributes to climate change through various means, including resource depletion and greenhouse gas emissions. When food is wasted, all the resources used in its production, such as water, energy, and land, are also wasted. For instance, it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef, and when that beef goes to waste, so does the water used in its production. Moreover, the decomposition of organic waste in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change and contributes to global warming.

The Role of Food Waste in Carbon Emissions

Methane emissions from food waste decomposition are significantly more harmful than carbon dioxide in the short term. The transportation and processing of wasted food further contribute to carbon emissions, adding to global warming and climate instability. In fact, food waste is estimated to account for around 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a significant contributor to climate change.
Food scraps and other organic debris go through a process called anaerobic decomposition in landfills, when microorganisms break down the trash in the absence of oxygen. As a consequence of this anaerobic breakdown, methane gas is released into the atmosphere. Methane has a much higher heat-trapping ability than carbon dioxide, making it a potent contributor to climate change.
Additional sources of carbon emissions include food waste processing and transportation. Food that is produced but not consumed often travels long distances to reach its final destination, whether it be a landfill or a composting facility. This transportation process involves the burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline or diesel, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
On the other hand, the processing of wasted food, such as composting or incineration, also generates carbon emissions. While composting is generally considered a more environmentally friendly method of waste management compared to landfill, it still produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as the organic matter breaks down.

Solutions to Address Food Waste
Individuals can adopt simple actions like:
  • meal planning,
  • proper storage,
  • and mindful shopping to reduce household food waste.

By planning meals in advance and purchasing only what is needed, individuals can minimize the likelihood of food spoilage and waste. Additionally, proper storage techniques, such as refrigeration and freezing, can help extend the shelf life of perishable items, further reducing the risk of waste.
Furthermore, businesses can implement:
  •  innovative practices such as surplus food redistribution,
  • composting,
  • and improved inventory management to minimize waste throughout the supply chain.
By redistributing surplus food to those in need, businesses can not only reduce waste but also alleviate food insecurity in communities. Moreover, investing in infrastructure for food recovery and recycling, and supporting education and awareness campaigns, can help create a culture of sustainability and waste reduction.
Addressing food waste is essential not only for conserving valuable resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also for alleviating pressure on our planet's ecosystems. Every meal saved from the bin represents a step towards a more sustainable future, where every plate contributes to the health of our planet. It's crucial to recognize the vital role of addressing food waste in creating a sustainable and resilient world for generations to come. By implementing solutions at the individual, business, and policy levels, we can work together to tackle food waste and combat climate change, ensuring a brighter future for all.

Compiled by Doris Ogueri (PhD)
Senior Researcher, Thailand Environment Institute

ขอบคุณข้อมูลจาก: TEI


Doris Ogueri

Independent Researcher, TEI