Why You Should Think About Food Waste Today

It's the first-ever International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste.

Man looks for food in dumpster
A man looks for food in a dumpster in Bogotá, Colombia, in April 2020.

VIEW press / Getty Images 

The 29th of September is the first-ever International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste (IDAFLW). It was named as such last winter by the United Nations General Assembly, which simultaneously designated 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. IDAFLW is a mouthful of a name (and an acronym) for a day that is meant to inspire changes to our everyday actions at home in the kitchen, but we'll happily put up with that because the message is so important. 

Food waste is an enormous global problem. Non-profit organization Project Drawdown has said that if it were a standalone country, it would place third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming. Striving to reduce food waste is, to quote Project Drawdown's vice-president and research director Chad Frischmann, "one of the most important things we can do to reverse global warming."

Estimates for how much food gets wasted range from 14% to 40% of total calories raised for human consumption, contributing 8% (or 3.3 gigatonnes) of global greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the waste occurs before food arrives at the grocery store, as it's moving through a vast and complex supply chain (a.k.a. the cold chain). 

As part of its Sustainable Development Goals, the UN has said it wants to halve global food waste by 2030 at the retail and consumer levels and "reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses." Designating a special day to talk about and bring attention to this issue is part of its plan. An online event will take place on September 29, including presentations by various agriculture ministers and celebrity chefs. 

What Can We Do?

While ordinary citizens may not have the power to effect significant changes in the global food supply chain, we can do our part to fight food waste by making careful and conscientious choices in our own lives. Not buying more than we can eat, planning meals in advance, committing to eating leftovers, understanding best before and expiry dates, storing food properly, reviving ingredients when they're past their prime, and learning how to preserve food are valuable skills that can go a long way toward cutting down on personal food waste (not to mention saving money). 

Choosing to buy perishable foods on a more regular basis and supporting local growers whose foods do not have to travel so far to your table (and thus are less likely to be wasted) are additional strategies. Read this list of 7 Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste.

You can find many more food waste-reducing tips at the NRDC's Save The Food campaign and Canada's equivalent, Love Food, Hate Waste.