Our present is the energy crisis, skyrocketing utility bills, and insane inflation. We are being told to limit our consumption and use only as much energy and products as we absolutely need. Still, vast amounts of food are wasted yearly, not only at the end-user level but also during the production chain.
In 2015, 42.5 million people in the EU did not have access to adequate quality food every second day, while 88 million tonnes of food, worth around €143 billion, was wasted. In 2021, we did not consume 153.5 million tonnes of food in the EU, but the number of people in Europe who cannot afford a good quality meal every second day has fallen by only a quarter to 33 million. The figure of 153.5 million is alarming as it is more than the EU’s yearly food imports (138 million tonnes). We use a territory equivalent to China’s area each year to produce the globally wasted food, which accounts for a quarter of yearly agricultural water usage and 8% of greenhouse gas emissions, too.
It is impossible to measure precisely how much food is wasted by households compared to the production process, as unharvested crops or unsold products are usually not counted as wasted food. Still, official figures show that households do not account for even half of the total food waste. Of all the food thrown away in the EU, 42% is thrown away in our homes, producers waste 32%, 5% is lost during commercial activity, and restaurants waste the remaining 15%. This figure suggests that raising awareness that we should consume more consciously is crucial, but the problem cannot be solved without industry regulation. Can we expect a retailer not to sell consumers more food than they actually need just based on benevolence?
If the stakeholders in the food industry, including producers, processors, suppliers, and restaurateurs, are not held accountable, they will have no intrinsic motivation to alter their behavior. Food waste could be significantly reduced by measures such as selling products that are soon to expire at very low prices. Furthermore, it is important to point out that tens of millions of Europeans still have problems buying adequate quality food despite the continent’s enormous scale of food waste. Our collective social failure is that while 33 million people are hungry, 53% of the EU’s adult population is overweight. According to the 2021 UNEP Food Waste Index Report, the estimated food waste per capita is 142 kilograms in Greece, 129 kg in Malta, and 94 kg in Hungary.
So, the question is not about food shortages; the problem is inequality and disparities in supply. An interesting question is to what extent the recent dramatic price increases will affect the amount of wasted food. For example, the price of bread in Hungary has risen by 64%, and the EU average is also almost 20%. The fact that 14 percent of the world’s grain is produced in Ukraine and Russia, and a fifth of the world’s maize exports are also from these two countries is also pushing up food prices. And rising energy prices are also making fertilizer more expensive. Forecasts suggest a 32% increase in grain prices in 2022-2023 due to the Russo-Ukrainian war.
High prices are expected to persist even if the war ends. So, the EU’s plan to halve food waste by 2030 becomes more realistic. After all, it is not good that the tenth of the EU’s population is hungry, while half of the Europeans overconsume and are overweight.
Graphics: Roland Molnár | Hype&Hyper