According to UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021, 17% of the food around the world is wasted. As per the same study, the global average food waste amounts to 74 kg per capita each year. The problem is particularly severe in areas with high population densities, where the number of people lives within 2,000 square kilometers (1000 square miles), or more. To achieve the overall goal of reducing global food waste by over 50 percent by 2025, food waste must be managed and reduced to a small part of the overall goal.
Food waste has been a problem in the world for many years and will continue to be so. It is important to make small changes in our daily routine to ensure this does not become a major issue. Research points to the fact that population growth, income growth, and unplanned urbanization are all increasing our consumption, and hence the amount of food we waste. But, what exactly defines food waste? And how does it affect India?
As per the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Food waste refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers”
India wastes about 50 kg per capita per year or 68,760,163 tonnes of food a year.
Even though the number is lower compared to South Asian countries like Pakistan(74 kg), Afghanistan(82 kg), and Bangladesh (65 kg), the issue of hunger in India is serious, making the issue important to pay attention to. At 27.5, as per Global Hunger Index, India (101) ranks behind neighboring countries like Nepal (76), Bangladesh (76), Myanmar (71), and Pakistan (92) in the Global Hunger Index.
The Link Between Food Waste And Climate Change
Food waste isn’t just linked to hunger, but also to climate change. Food that lands up in landfills lacks oxygen and good bacteria. As a result, it emits carbon-di-oxide (CO2) and methane that is responsible for 8-10% of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions. Food waste, therefore, is a contributor to the climate crisis.
India is one of the largest producers of landfill gas in the world as per research supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India. In 2011, it produced 16 Mt CO2 eq per year, and it was predicted to increase to almost 20 Mt CO2 eq per year by 2020. Methane made up for around 29% of the total Indian GHG emissions, while the global average was 15%.
In India, 65 million tonnes of waste is generated annually out of which about 62 million tonnes is Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). The same study mentions about 75-80% of the municipal waste gets collected and out of this only 22- 28% is processed and treated. The remaining waste is deposited at dump yards.
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By 2031, MSW generated is projected to increase to 165 million tonnes, and further up to 436 million tonnes by 2025. Our cities are choking in the noxious fumes of this waste. As per a report released by BMC nearly 3/4th of Mumbai’s garbage (72%) is composed of food waste. 7.5 tonnes of food is discarded daily across the 400 Safal outlets in Delhi. Approximately 84.7% of the total food waste recorded was thrown in the bin as per the report of the Chintan Foundation.
What India Can Do To Reduce Food Waste
In India, households/end consumers are responsible for the largest portion of all food waste in the country, with restaurants, weddings and parties being major sources of food wastage.
As a significant amount of food waste is generated in households, composting can be one of the ways individuals and local communities can reduce the impact of food waste. As per Stree Mukti Sanghatana report Not really waste(a guide to composting), an urban family of four generates between 500 and 750 grams of compostable waste daily. Out of India’s total waste, 31 million tons is compostable or wet waste
At an institutional level, another step that could be taken by the government is curtailing food loss. This would consist of reducing the number of eating places an individual may have and also be prohibited from selling food without proper utilization.
As per the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Food loss is the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain, excluding retailers, food service providers, and consumers.”
Food Loss can occur due to a variety of reasons such as losses in the farms, during transportation & in manufacturing and distribution facilities.
According to a study conducted by the Central Institute of Post Harvest Engineering and Technology, Ludhiana (CIPHET), the losses mostly come at the farm level as compared to losses in storage channels. Using technology in agriculture can not just benefit farming in India, but also lead to curbing food losses, as well as increase production of food.
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So an improvement in the countries transport, storage, and distribution network, where much food loss happens. India has about 8,186 cold storage facilities, 75% of which are suitable only for storing single commodities. The cold chain faces challenges such as high real estate prices, lack of skilled labor, fuel costs, lack of consistent power supply to name a few.
On their part, the government, civil society organizations, and businesses have taken some steps to reduce food wastage. A case in point is the ‘save food, share food, share joy’ campaign that was started by The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to distribute food that could be potentially wasted.
Apart from steps taken at an individual level, it is important that state governments, as well as bodies like FSSAI, devise more campaigns in order to generate large-scale impact.
It is also important that we create a system to have more robust data on the scale and mechanics of food wastage and loss in the country, to design appropriate policies around the same. The data can help the government, restaurants, and other resource-holders manage food loss and waste effectively. It will also help people know what needs to be done to optimize gain and loss from food wastage and loss.
A partnership between government, civil society organizations and individuals can not only help mobilize public opinion but also help in a drastic reduction of food loss and wastage in the country. Moreover, in order to make sure that we are coming up with the right solutions, organizations such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) should support the country’s request for assistance. This help in terms of financial assistance can help us to reduce or stop the amount of food loss and wastage in the country.