Food waste and climate change
Excess amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are contributing to global warming and climate change.
When wasted food is thrown away and breaks down in landfill, together with other organic materials, it becomes the main contributor to the generation of methane – a gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
National greenhouse inventory data tells us landfills contribute two per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, if food waste produced by households is reduced by 66 per cent in line with the NSW Government’s Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy, the greenhouse gas savings would be equivalent to taking 117,000 cars permanently off the road in NSW.
We can all make a real contribution to tackling climate change and living more sustainably by wasting less food.
Landfill and pollution
Food waste can also have a major impact on landfills, or rubbish tips, and how these sites affect the surrounding environment. The breakdown of food waste in landfill releases nutrients, which can migrate out of landfilled waste and into the surrounding environment. Too many nutrients can be a problem because they can pollute our groundwater and waterways.
Food production lifecycle
Australia’s food production lifecycle, or supply chain, has a significant impact on our greenhouse and environmental footprint. Soils, water, natural resources and energy are used to produce, harvest, transport, process, package, distribute and market all our food products. When food is wasted, the energy and resources invested by the supply chain to deliver food to our pantry and plates is lost.
In Australia, the food supply chain is responsible for approximately 23 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second-highest emissions generating activity after power stations. This includes direct emissions from agriculture, and those attributed to energy, transport, food production, processing and distribution.
By swapping our wasteful habits for a more sustainable approach to buying, preparing and managing our food, we can all play a part in bringing about significant environmental and greenhouse benefits.
Paddock to plate
Farming practices – clearing, cultivating, irrigating, grazing, spraying, fertilising and cropping – can impact our environment. Combined with the introduction of pests and weeds, soil loss and dryland salinity, traditional farming practices have changed our landscapes over last the 150 years.
The food system represents a great part of our environmental footprint. If current trends in our population and consumption patterns continue, the world will need to produce about twice as much food by 2050, in a changing climate, with higher prices for energy, water and fertilisers.
We can all reduce our environmental impact by changing our actions towards food production and food waste. When you grow your own vegetables, buy local produce, certified organic products and support sustainable farming, you increase demand for sustainable produce and contribute positively to our environment.
The single largest impact Australian households have on water use is through the food we consume. Food accounts for about half of the total household water use compared with around 11 per cent used directly in washing, cleaning and gardens. Just think about all the water that is needed to grow fruit, vegetables, cereals, grains and to support livestock. Being one of the driest continents on earth means we can not afford to waste water through wasting our food.
According to CSIRO data, throwing out a kilogram of beef wastes the 50,000 litres of water it took to produce that meat. Throwing out one kilogram of white rice wastes 1,550 litres and discarding one kilogram of potatoes wastes 500 litres of water.
Being less wasteful with food is one of the best ways you can reduce water consumption. What can you do to reduce your food waste?
Visit the Love Food Hate Waste Research page for detailed research papers and information about food waste.