Do we think when throwing away an apple to the rubbish, what we have just done? How will it affect our life? It seems that we don’t consider it. We don’t have time. Additionally, we don’t see it at all. How much this one apple today in combination with meat that has been thrown away the day before yesterday, impacts our tomorrow? What if we started writing down what we toss away and then summarized once a year? It would turn out that it is 95 – 115 kg of food per capita (the USA and the EU). But it is not only wasted food. Consequences are more far reaching.
In the first place, consumers lose money which they spent on food that they threw away. To put it globally, higher spendings on food means increased demand which indeed dictates food prices. Thus, by buying more than is needed, we contribute to the global growth of food prices. Not only we pay more for what we eat. We thereby limit access for poor people. Why? High prices are one of the reasons of starvation and malnutrition. People just can’t afford food that is tossed away in developed countries. One-third to half of produced food is wasted. How much would prices fall if people didn’t throw away so much? If only we would learn not to toss away food, then we would contribute to improving the living of poorer people in the world.
Today 1,3 billion tons of food is wasted globally per year. If we threw away one-quarter less, it would be possible to feed eight hundred millions of people who are undernourished. Food wastage is a global problem and concerns developing as well as developed countries. Except that losses are generated in a completely different way. In poorer countries, most of the food is wasted unintentionally due to poor equipment, transport technology, and infrastructural deficiencies. In the wealthier countries, wastage is related to throwing food away. It happens so for two reasons. Either we buy too much food or food fails to meet stores standards.
In the second case, stores reject food when it doesn’t meet customers requirements, which are most important for grocery stores. Therefore, companies try to provide clients with the highest quality products. In some cases, it has led to absurdities. That happens in the case of fruits and vegetables which have the largest share in wasted food (45 percent).
How does that absurd look like in practice? For consumers, important is that fruits and vegetables look nice. They should have appetizing color and be of a certain shape. Customers are not willing to buy another one. If they find such vegetable, they will not put it in the shopping basket. Ultimately it will be thrown away by the grocery store. However, there is the other side of the coin. Consumers are used to the situation that fruits and vegetables are equal, have similar color, size, and curvature. Grocery stores aim at delivering best products, imposing demands regarding supplies. High standards cause that over half of fruits and vegetables will never get in a grocery store. For instance, bananas should be of a certain curvature. If they aren’t, they will be rejected. As a result, we see only perfectly shaped bananas in grocery stores. It seems to us that all bananas are alike. If they look slightly different, we think that they are tasteless or off. The way out of this situation is above all education, public awareness and pressure put on retailers. For instance, Walmart – the biggest supermarket chain in the USA has decreased requirements for suppliers because of harsh criticism of public opinion. Therefore, it is worth remember that our choices at shelves affect future prices and in consequence accessibility of food for people all over the world.