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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Reducing Food Waste Throughout Grocery Supply Chains

Even a casual flick through news articles concerning food brings to light many different problems associated with a basic commodity that everybody takes for granted. Recently Time Inc announced the top 10 startups in NYC and topping list is Foodspotting, a website that lets foodies know the perfect dish and tells them where it’s served, based on their location. This innovative service allows you search for and find the one dish you are craving and rate it

On the flip side there is news that food inflation is going to reach severe highs by 2030 and many of world's poorest people will not be able to afford to feed themselves. A recent FAO report stated that approximately 1.3 billion tons of food gets lost or wasted every year. It goes on to elaborate that consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).

The report is probably the first of its kind to distinguish between food loss and food waste. Food waste is an entirely preventable phenomenon mostly occurring richer countries involving throwing perfectly edible food away by consumers and retailers alike. Food loss on the other hand occurs mostly in developing economies where poor infrastructure does not ensure optimal preservation of food during processing, transporting and other intermediate steps.

The report states that per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year. Considering that agricultural land accounts for roughly 36% of the Earth's land surface, wasting food is tantamount to wasting nature. Agricultural land is often land that was previously a habitat like grasslands, forests, and even deserts which were previously supporting complex ecosystems. Apart from land usage, agriculture is extremely energy intensive using vast amounts of fuel, fertilizer etc. Food wastage therefore is one of the worse kinds of preventable abominations.

There are several ways in which food waste can be prevented. There are some things that you can do as a consumer and other things which supermarkets and governing bodies should take note of.

  • Less emphasis on the appearance of food. Supermarkets pay premium for vegetables and fruits that look a certain way and are of uniform size. Any produce that does not meet these criteria is often discarded. Shop at farmer's markets or lobby your local supermarket to have a 'discarded' produced aisle.

  • Better supply chains ensure that fresh food is only brought in when needed to ensure less wastage. The best way to find out about supply chains is to speak to your local store manager and find out what they throw out and how much. Then you can find out if the store is willing to donate the wasted food to a homeless shelter etc.

  • Western cultures are encouraged to stockpile on food with offers like "buy one get one free," "three for two" etc.  This is something that consumers should be aware of - do you really need the extra food?

  • Wasted food can and should be converted to compost wherever possible.

  • Donation of excess or unwanted food is also a good way to control food waste.

  • Keep regular checks on your pantry and refrigerator to ensure you're not buying more than you need and are regularly using the food that you are buying.

  • Too much food in the house and not sure what to do with it? Have a cook-out and invite a few friends over!

Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotAkhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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