Cutting food waste would help fight climate change

food waste in trash can

I suspect it's pretty much consensus opinion that the amount of food we waste, while people go hungry, is obscene. What's less well recognized, however, is that cutting food waste isn't just a way to fight hunger. It could also help us reduce the negative impacts of climate change.

A new study from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that up to 14% of farming-related emissions could be slashed if we made a concerted effort to tackle food waste. That's a pretty astounding number. And what's particularly interesting—and obvious once you think about it—is that the food waste problem isn't just about how much we waste, but what we waste too. Jürgen Kropp, co-author and deputy chair of PIK research domain Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities, explains more in a press release:

“As many emerging economies like China or India are projected to rapidly increase their food waste as a consequence of changing lifestyle, increasing welfare and dietary habits towards a larger share of animal-based products, this could over proportionally increase greenhouse-gas emissions associated with food waste – at the same time undermining efforts for an ambitious climate protection.”

It's not explicitly laid out in the summary of the study, and I have yet to read the study in detail, but my assumption is that the focus on animal product-related food waste is three-fold. First, as is fairly well known by now, meat and dairy have a much higher climate impact than most plant-based foods. Second, meat and dairy spoil faster than rice and beans. And thirdly, eating spoiled meat and dairy has a much graver consequence than snacking on a shriveled carrot.

The study itself does not get into how we go about cutting food waste. But given that agriculture accounts for as much as 20% of global emissions, a 14% cut to waste that's morally obscene anyway should be a no-brainer in terms of societal priorities.

Fortunately, fighting food waste is beginning to get at least a fraction of the legislative attention that it deserves.

Cutting food waste would help fight climate change
Up to 14% of agriculture-related emissions could be slashed if we just stopped wasting so much food.

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