Why Massive Food Waste is Cause for Global Concern


Photo credit: sporkist/Creative Commons
This guest post was written by Andrea Thomas, Walmart senior vice president of sustainability.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently issued an alarming report that states roughly one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted every year—approximately 1.3 billion tons of food. And it's not just the food going to waste; it's also the energy, water, fertilizer and other resources used to produce the food that is wasted. This is a trend that cannot continue.The global population is growing. By some accounts, it will reach 9 billion people by 2050. The planet isn't getting any larger, so finding ways to produce and preserve more food efficiently will be a key to meeting the demands of the future. Think about this: if we reduced the current food waste by 20%, that would equal 260 million more tons of available food without using one more kilowatt of energy, one more drop of water or one more acre of land.

According to the FAO's report, a one-size-fits-all approach won't work. Different solutions are needed for different markets. The biggest challenge in emerging countries like India and China is the distribution infrastructure, particularly the cold supply chain. In developed markets, it's in-store waste. Last fall, Walmart came to a similar conclusion and committed to help growers produce more food with fewer resources and less waste throughout our global operations.

We committed to invest $1 billion up and down our global fresh supply chain, from farms to distribution centers to the trucks used to transport produce, by the end of 2015. This investment is especially important in markets like India, which has virtually no cold supply chain. We will also reduce in-store food waste in these markets by 15%.

In developed markets like North America, the needs are very different. Much of the waste here happens in stores. Take eggs, for example. Right now, if an egg in a carton is broken, the entire dozen must be thrown away because a new egg cannot be substituted for the broken one. This is because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cannot guarantee that carton's freshness if an egg from another carton is substituted. While this benefits public health, it is estimated that one in every 10 dozen eggs is thrown out—roughly 5 billion eggs annually!

To address this issue, Walmart is working with two egg suppliers and the USDA to develop innovative new solutions to prevent unnecessary waste. Together, we've discovered how to use organic laser light to stamp important information directly onto each egg. Now, instead of throwing good eggs away, employees can replace a broken egg with a new one of the same size, grade and freshness. We estimate this could save Walmart alone 500 million eggs a year. In addition, it would ensure the resources required to produce those eggs don't go to waste. It takes 10 billion gallons of water to grow the feed for the hens that lay those eggs, and the amount of energy required is equal to 29 million gallons of gas.

In addition, our goal to double the amount of locally grown produce Walmart sells in the U.S. will make a big difference in limiting food waste. By getting broccoli, blueberries, bok choy and other produce from a local field, we can get produce to our customers quicker, increasing the product's freshness and helping reduce waste, both in the consumer's home and in the supply chain.

Few issues will be more important to the world and its fastest growing markets than food and agriculture, and it will only become a larger issue in the future. Producing more food and eliminating food waste will require large-scale, global solutions. Partnership among retailers, suppliers, government and non-government organizations is key, and Walmart is committed to playing a leading role in this effort.

Read more about food waste:
The Impact of Food Waste on Climate Change (And Just About Everything Else)
Food Waste Revealed: From Farm to Store to Kitchen (Photos)
Britain Discards 10 Stadiums of Food Waste a Year

Tags: Waste

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