Food waste harms climate, drains natural resources

Food waste from a hotel in Hubballi being dumped on to a garbage truck. DH PHOTO/ Tajuddin Azad

It is ironic that much of the food that is produced is never eaten. It finds its way to the trash and then to the landfills. Ethical concerns apart, food lost in the supply chain or wasted contributes to the wastage of natural resources.

“Food lost or wasted has direct impact on economy and environment,” says Krishna Raj, professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. “Due to food wastage, the economy will have to employ more land, labour, capital and organisation to produce food. It leads to an increased use of energy, such as oil and electricity, for producing, transporting, cold storage, processing and packaging food. Food production requires more water and land which also affects the environment,” he said.

At the landfill, food waste rots and emits methane, a greenhouse gas, and contributes to climate change.

“While food production is an intensive process today, a lot of agrochemicals are used for better growth and higher yields and a lot of petrochemicals are used for tillage and transport. Thus emission of greenhouse gases, more particularly carbon dioxide, is inevitable,” points out Rajendra Hegde, chairman, Biological Research Innovation Centre and Solutions LLP.

“During the decomposition process, particularly in the dumping places or mounds, methane gas is emitted. Both methane and carbon dioxide contribute to global warming. This is an alarming situation,’’ adds Hegde.

Health hazards

That apart, landfills also require plenty of space, not to talk about the health hazards it creates.

“The Municipal Solid Waste generated in Karnataka is estimated at 0.57 tonnes per day in small towns and 140 tonnes per day in Bengaluru. According to the Directorate of Municipal Administration, Karnataka generates about 8,825 tonnes of waste per day, of it Bengaluru contributes about 4,500 tonnes per day,” says Krishna Raj. “The food waste dumped on land or landfills produces methane gas which directly makes the temperature rise,” he adds.

According to Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, one third of all the food produced for human consumption is wasted. Hence experts say time is ripe for consumer behaviour and habits to change.

“Beyond statistics, food wastage translates into huge wastage of resources in the process of food production, more particularly water and energy,” says Hegde.

“If you take Karnataka as a simple unit to relate, more than 65% people are still dependent on agriculture, and practice energy intensive agriculture. They have to spend time, fuel and other resources to produce and distribute the food to the populated urban spaces,” he says.

“Mostly, food is wasted in cities and municipal areas. We do not have water and when we waste food, we are wasting the water resource. We are also wasting huge resources in managing the waste,” adds Hegde.

Significant steps at households can help reduce food wastage. Fresh leftovers can be donated to the needy while composting can cut down the mountains of wastage in landfills.

The need of the hour

Among other measures, planning ahead on what to shop, how much to cook and serve will go a long way in reducing the wastage.

“Towns and cities with a population of above one lakh generate, on an average, 200 to 500 grams of domestic solid waste per person per day. However, collected and treated solid waste is around 2,100 tonnes per day. The uncollected waste chokes sewerage and drainage impacts health. It causes dog and rodent menace in cities,”
informs Krishna Raj.

The price paid by the environment for food wastage is colossal. When food is saved, resources that are used to produce it are also saved, like water which is largely affected as it is vital for food production.

Looking at the situation in the state, Krishna Raj says, “Karnataka is facing severe water problems because it has the largest dry land area after Rajasthan. Growing food demands more surface and groundwater.”

Day after day, the solid waste scenario in the state has been giving more food for thought. “The solid waste is not scientifically separated and collected. Further, its treatment is not done scientifically for further use of its products for agricultural use. Waste should have been converted as resource with the use of proper technology in the state,” adds Dr Krishna Raj.

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