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Hilal Her

Environmental Impacts of Food Waste

October 2023

Food waste is a worldwide predicament and the majority of developed countries waste more food than they consume. Today, it is believed that one-third of all food produced in the world is wasted. This equates to around 1.3 billion tons of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, fish, and grains that never leave the field, are lost or ruined during distribution, or are discarded in hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, or home kitchens. This could contain enough calories to feed every hungry person on the earth.
But food waste is not simply a social or humanitarian concern, it is also an environmental one. We waste all of the energy and water required to grow, harvest, transport, and package food when we trash it. Food waste not only exacerbates food insecurity, but it also has a negative impact on the environment. When compared to other issues, throwing away leftovers may appear to be a minor environmental hazard, but the sad truth is that it is just as detrimental. 
Food waste is one of the major sustainability issues that need to be addressed due to its huge negative impacts on economy, environment and food security. To develop a food waste reduction policy on regional and global level, it is mandatory to have a clear understanding of the various factors that prompt food waste at the household level and the extent of the economic losses incurred by food waste.
Pakistan is a land where the adversarial impact of food waste is generally perceived by society as a slight nuisance to Mother Earth and our sustainable future. A report by Pakistan’s Ministry of National Food Security and Research reveals that Pakistan wastes 26% of its food production yearly. The yearly food waste in Pakistan is 19.6 million tons. This is a shocking revelation given that the country is home to millions of people who are unable to access basic food commodities.
What Causes Food Waste in Pakistan?
Food waste can be ascribed to a variety of issues in Pakistan, as it is in many other nations. The main cause of food waste is that people keep food for later use but do not consume it in time and prefer to eat fresh food, lack of interest, meal mismanagement, adverse eating and storing routines. This loss endangers all resources utilized in food production and contributes to energy losses. 

Lack of Awareness
One of the significant reasons for food waste is a lack of awareness about its detrimental consequences. Many people may not fully understand the inimical environmental and economic impacts of wasting food.
Poor Storage and Handling
Inadequate storage facilities and improper handling of food leads to the spoilage and waste. This is particularly common in regions with unreliable electricity or inadequate refrigeration process. In the agricultural sector, overproduction of certain crops can result in food going to waste if it cannot be sold or distributed in a timely manner.
Energy Waste and Supply Chain
Inefficient supply chains can lead to food losses during transportation from farms to markets. Poor road infrastructure, lack of refrigerated transport, and delays in distribution can all contribute to food waste. Transportation, processing, and refrigeration of food, all require energy. When food is wasted, the energy used in these processes is also wasted, contributing to higher energy consumption and environmental degradation. In some cases, food waste that could be recycled or composted ends up in landfills, further exacerbating environmental problems.
Cultural Practices
Cultural practices and traditions may also contribute to food waste. For example, large quantities of food may be prepared for events or gatherings, leading to excess food that goes to waste instead of consumption.
Economic Factors
Economic factors, such as poverty and income disparities, can lead to food waste. People with limited resources may not have the means to purchase and store food effectively. In Pakistan, where resources are often scarce, the inefficient use of resources due to food waste can strain the economy.
Resource Depletion
The production of food requires significant resources such as water, energy, and land. When food is wasted, these resources are effectively squandered. Pakistan, like many countries, faces resource scarcity issues, so reducing food waste can help conserve these precious resources. 
Loss of Biodiversity
Unsustainable agricultural practices associated with overproduction to compensate for food waste can harm biodiversity. The use of pesticides and the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture can lead to the loss of plant and animal species.
What can Women of Pakistan do to Reduce Food Waste
Samina Khalid and her fellow researchers conducted a survey to evaluate the damaging effects of food loss, titled: Food Waste: Causes and Economic Losses Estimation at Household Level in Pakistan. The focus  of the survey was on levels of food waste and respondents’ knowledge and behaviors about food waste. In the survey, respondents from both high- and low-income households revealed that their food losses were high. Monetary losses from food waste (3677.01 PKR per capita per annum) were higher in high income households. Women in Pakistan, like women all over the world, play a crucial role in managing household food and can take several steps to help reduce food waste.
Meal Planning
Plan meals ahead of time, considering what ingredients are already available and what needs to be purchased. This helps in buying only what is necessary, reducing the chance of food going to waste.
Proper Storage
Learn proper storage techniques to keep food fresh for longer. This includes using airtight containers, keeping perishables refrigerated, and storing food in cool, dry places. Serve appropriate portion sizes to avoid leftover food that may be discarded. Teach family members about portion control to minimize plate waste.
Use Leftovers Creatively
Get creative with leftovers by turning them into new dishes. For example, yesterday’s vegetables can become part of a stir-fry, and leftover rice can be used for making fried rice.
Understand Expiration Dates
Understand the difference between “sell by,” “use by,” and “best before” dates on food products. These dates are often conservative, and many foods are still safe to consume beyond them.
Consider starting a compost pile or bin for food scraps. Composting not only reduces waste but also creates nutrient-rich soil for gardening.
Donate Surplus Food
If you have surplus food that you won’t be able to consume, consider donating it to local charities or food banks to help those in need.
Support Sustainable Shopping
When shopping, choose products with minimal packaging, and consider buying in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Additionally, support local and sustainable food producers when possible. Minimize the use of single-use plastics, such as plastic bags and food containers, which contribute to environmental pollution. Opt for reusable alternatives like cloth bags and glass containers.
Educate Others
Share your knowledge about food waste reduction with family and friends. Encourage them to adopt similar practices and be mindful of food waste.
Advocate for Change
Join or support local initiatives and organizations working to reduce food waste and promote sustainability in Pakistan. Advocate for policies and practices that prioritize food conservation.
Women in Pakistan can lead by example within their households and communities, demonstrating the importance of responsible food consumption and waste reduction. These efforts not only benefit the environment but can also lead to cost savings and a more sustainable future. 
We, as Pakistani citizens can play a significant role in reducing food waste by adopting responsible practices and fostering a culture of sustainability. Reducing food waste requires a collective effort, and every citizen has a role to play in creating a more sustainable and responsible food system in Pakistan. By adopting practices and promoting a culture of waste reduction, citizens can contribute to a healthier environment, reduced economic strain, and improved food security in the country. HH

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