Waste not, want not: Engineers call for action on world food problem

An Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) report shows that up to half the world’s food is wasted every year – and urgent action is needed to tackle the problem.

Between 1.2 and 2 billion tonnes of food does not even reach the table: for example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetables do not get harvested because of large retailers’ demand for food that meets their standards for physical appearance. This large scale problem identified by the Institution in their report, “Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not”, is also caused by other factors, such as poor storage, inadequate transportation, and consumer wastage – and, with a projected world population increase of 3 billion by 2075, demand for food will be greater.

It is not just the food itself being wasted that is the problem; energy and water are also factors. Water is needed to grow crops, and approximately 550 billion cubic metres of it is used in growing produce that does not get eaten. By 2050, demand for water to produce food could be 10 to 13 trillion cubic metres, which is about three times the current total worldwide fresh water use.

Cutting losses and waste, and making better use of our resources, could enable 60 to 100% more food to be provided. Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the IME, said: “The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today. It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.”

So how can the “wasteful practices” identified by the IME be changed? Whilst the Government and other agencies can educate people about the problem, everybody can “do their bit” to make sure they eliminate food waste in homes and businesses.

Not buying too much food when shopping, eating less meat (far more energy and water is needed to produce meat than to grow vegetables and grains), and making sure food is disposed of responsibly, are things that we can all do.

With its commitment to sustainability, Recycling Lives does everything it can to reduce food wastage and dispose of it in an eco-friendly way. The organisation is also happy to dispense advice – see our advice on how to reduce food waste at Christmas for one of the many examples of how the organisation raises people’s awareness of waste reduction.

In its work with Residents who have experienced homelessness and unemployment, the Recycling Lives UK social welfare charity also teaches people how to prepare food properly, keep waste to a minimum, and manage their shopping budget. This is part of a holistic package of support that helps people to preserve their income, get out of debt, and rebuild their lives. If we reduce waste, this will benefit not only the individuals we support, but also the world.