Food for thought

Engaging the discussion of food wastage

Alan K. Millin
Alan K. Millin

Here’s an experiment that we can all participate in: When you feel hungry, go to your favourite fast food outlet and buy three portions of your favourite item. Make a mental note of how much your items cost. Pick a table to sit at, but before you sit down, throw one of your newly purchased tasty morsels into the waste bin. Yes, that’s right, throw it away.

Now sit down and eat the remaining two items. How do you feel? Do you feel proud that you have purchased three items, thrown one away and then consumed the other two? Or are you wondering why you just did that and whether what you ate justified the cost, which you now realise works out at two for the price of three; a real bargain isn’t it?

With luck you will be wondering why you bought an item of food only to throw it away. If so, take comfort in the fact that you have taken a step on the road towards reducing your food waste.

The sad fact is that in a world where many people struggle to find enough food for their next meal, those with food in abundance are simply throwing it away. In fact approximately one third of all food produced is lost or wasted annually according to a 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Additionally, according to a report from the international agency dedicated to defeating hunger, food wastage ranks as the third largest Co2 emitter after the US and China. This introduces a considerable environmental burden, in addtion to the simple economic impact and food wastage.

So what can the facilities management profession do to improve the situation?

Some higher education organisations have taken drastic action and removed all trays from cafeterias. This has required students to be more selective about what they choose as it is more difficult to load up with goodies in a single trip. Results show that food wastage has been reduced by up to 30% in some instances.

Could we adopt a similar strategy with the working population too? Can we encourage people to take only what they need and influence them to leave the extra 50% on the counter?

Removing trays from cafeterias may not be an acceptable tactic in many facilities but perhaps we can start with reducing the size of the trays. And then we might reduce the size of plates so that people will take less food. And when everyone has become accustomed to the new trays and crockery we can start again and introduce new, smaller trays.

On the disposal side, composting has become something of a buzzword in sustainability circles. We can take the huge amount of food waste and use it for compost but we really need to tackle the problem at source and reduce the amount of waste generated rather than just developing ways to handle it.

To achieve that we need strategies. The simplest of these may be as straightforward as informing people so that they become aware of the impact of food waste on their personal finances.

How many people, for instance, assess the value of the food they throw away? Judging by the size of the food waste mountain, not many. Perhaps we just need to start at home and look at our own food wastage, we might be surprised at what we find.

About the author
Alan K. Millin is a scientist, engineer, environmentalist and thinker.

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