Control, better usage vital

Food Waste

By Dr.Oishee Mukherjee

With reports of an impending El Nino effect impacting agricultural production and resultant higher food prices would obviously affect populous countries like India, which for long has been suffering from severe malnutrition and under nutrition. Therefore, it is all the more imperative that possible food wastage be checked. Judged from the standpoint of natural justice, such wastage clearly reveals not just neglect and lack of concern of the affluent sections for the poor and the impoverished but also poor governance on the part of the government.

It is estimated that 40 percent food waste in India takes place often because most small-scale farmers do not have food storage or cold chain facilities. However, as per records, India’s households discard 50 kg food per capita annually. However, food waste is also caused by pestilence and rotting. Households in the country throw much lesser edible food than many countries in the West, specially the US, where over 40 percent of food is wasted by consumers.

One may refer here to the Food Waste Index Report 2021 of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organisation WRAP, which stated that around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019, 61 per cent of which came from households, 26 per cent from food service and 13 per cent from retail. “This suggests that 17 per cent of total global food production may be wasted,” it said. “The weight roughly equals that of 23 million fully loaded 40-tonne trucks —- bumper-to-bumper, enough to circle the Earth seven times,” the UN agency observed.

It needs to be stated that food waste is a biodegradable waste matter that is discharged from food processing industries, households, and the hospitality sectors. Food waste contains fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, baked goods, dairy products, kitchen scrapes. This food waste when dumped in open landfills causes severe health and environmental issues. Decomposition of food waste in the absence of oxygen releases methane which further leads to many environmental problems. Also, the decomposition of food waste on landfills hinders the recovery of nutrients in the soils.

At a time when there is world-wide concern about greenhouse gas emissions, it needs to be pointed out that food waste has substantial environmental, social and economic impacts. As is generally acknowledged that climate action is still very much lagging and 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. Apart from the hunger aspect and availability of more food in curbing waste, it also needs to be stated that reducing such waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, which is of urgent necessity the world over.

In India, the household food waste estimate is 50 kg per capita per year, or 68,760,163 tonnes a year. The household food waste estimate in the US is 59 kg per capita per year or 19,359,951 tonnes a year while for China these estimates are 64 kg per capita per year or 91,646,213 tonnes a year.

There can be no denying that with the problems of poverty, on the one hand, and climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, on the other, reducing food waste is an urgent necessity. Thus, increase in food waste, at least in India, can definitely be attributed to be crime as hunger looms large and sections of children and women suffer from under nutrition. But efforts by Central and State governments are far from encouraging. There is no regulation to stop food waste and one can see food littered in metros and towns of the country. Lack of municipal governance and unsustainable life styles by the rich and the upper middle class has resulted in food going waste.

For an efficient way of food waste management in India, business owners involved in food production and manufacturing sector, there are various viable solutions prepared at hand. The first and foremost is the need to recycle by composting: food producers which could solve 100 percent of their waste matter issues by merely organising a good composting strategy. And doing this not merely eliminates waste, it saves cash as there is no need to outsource compost production.

The other aspect could be to turn wasted food into animal feed. Cultivating compost is a method to recycle food, however, it also can be drained of the bellies of cows, sheep, pigs, and alternative ethereal (themselves destined to become food). Also wasted food could be used to for making biofuels to liquid fertilizer and the likes.

Another measure would be to start food banks by charitable organisations that dispense food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough food to avoid hunger. Rather than violating the waste to landfill, this is an environmentally friendly way, but to deal with food items that are in a good condition is to donate them to food banks or charities prior to their expiry dates.

Finally, source reduction and food donation is very vital and the most important aspect of controlling waste. The easiest method to curtail waste matter is to easily turn out less whenever production is clearly resulting in waste. Once excess foodstuffs are still safe to eat, there will be hungry and poor people who would be happy to receive it as decent food in today’s economy is dear.

Food wastage is a global problem and India stands a chance to convert this into an opportunity. This food wastage is not limited to one level alone but can be seen with each step ahead. Food needs to go ahead with many processes before consumed from harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting to the end stage of consumption. Most of the time food wastage occurs because of gaps in the logistics supply chain, which if organised and managed properly, can minimise the wastage.

The whole management of food waste is based on aspects, reduce, reuse, and compost. These aspects should be taken care of by every family out there and food control can be done.  Food donation, animal feeding, rendering are the basic measures that can be taken up to reduce food wastage. Hotel industry, banquets, and the ones that deals with bulk should take the measure of food control or food security and not forget to supply excessive food to the NGOs and needy people. This should be made mandatory and, if necessary, a tax should be levied on the quantum of food waste generated every day or every week by hotels and restaurants, specially in metros and towns all over the country.

In a country like India, where hunger along with under nutrition and malnutrition is a problem, the government has to come out with a policy framework to control food waste. Also, the question of recycling such waste should be seriously considered and a strategy evolved in consultation with experts in the field. It goes without saying that India being the world’s second-most populous country, it is imperative to reduce food wastage to feed the 194 million Indians who sleep hungry every night. — INFA