Food Waste: Around the World on a Fingertip.


I have talked at length about the absolute scandal that food waste is and sadly continues to be; yet I remain an optimist.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man Epistle 1

Things are on the move in various parts of the world. In Africa, the United Nations (UN) has several initiatives in operation: in Gambia, a new policy of one-village-one-product is helping to eliminate waste at the farm level. Each village in the scheme produces a crop to sell at the local market where other villages bring their main crop. How this develops will be interesting and to determine if it can be sustained in the long-term. Nonetheless it is a positive start and brings a consciousness of avoiding waste to the forefront of local thinking.

A novel approach to cattle farming is being experimented with in Kisii in the western highlands of Kenya. Here the UN has introduced insecticide treated mosquito nets and results are quite promising. The cattle have to be corralled and the netting placed around the pen at ground level and up to 1 metre high. Apparently, the little culprits, the Tsetse fly, swoon in at low level to attack their prey. (Didn’t know that.) The benefit is twofold: firstly, the milk yield has doubled and in places tripled. Secondly, illness among the farmers has been significantly reduced.

As the Tsetse fly, kills millions of animals in sub-Sahara Africa with a disease, the human equivalent of ‘sleeping sickness’ the netting could prove a considered step forward. The saving of the animal and the resultant milk supply could stave off possible hunger. The downside is that the animals must be corralled for the system to be effective and of course, that means they need to be fed.

I have mentioned New Zealand previously where it is claimed that 60% of households do some composting rather than sending their waste to landfill. All sounds really positive but I would like to know whether the composting is inclusive to rural areas or is also a main function of the urban areas too. Composting is something that we should all consider.

The story in Europe Union (EU) is likewise upbeat in that the EU has set member states a target to reduce biodegradable waste or face monetary penalties. An example is Britain which has adopted the ‘landfill directive’ by which it has to reduce biodegradable waste to 35% of what it was in 1995. A stiff challenge but the government reckon they can achieve it. Cross fingers.

In the United Kingdom (UK) the new Conservative government has followed, and given fresh impetus to an initiative of the previous Labour Government, to push ahead with ‘anaerobic digestion’(AD). The government view AD as the strongest contender to advance a zero policy on biodegradable waste. Two other considerations, composting and incineration while helpful do not have the added benefits that could accrue from AD, e.g. biogas and a perfectly good fertilizer. The latter could also reduce the farmers’ dependence on chemical fertilizer. (Bonus) According to their website AD, “…offers the greatest environmental benefit.”

There are several initiatives in America with individual states, Omaha, and major cities such as San Francisco, making headway with their own plans. However, the one that caught my eye was Austin Texas, where the city council in collaboration with local business and local media has designated 2013 the ‘Year of Food Waste and Prevention’. Now that is serious thinking and very serious initiative taking. It would appear that Austin means business-all power to their efforts. Imagine if other major cities, the size of London, Sydney, Bangkok (Krung Thep), Beijing, followed Austin’s lead the publicity to take action against food waste would be immense.

Check out:

Wherever there is a positive side there is usually a negative right opposite it, and yes, there are still a few bugbears to sort out. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, point out some interesting facts: one hectare (2.5 acres approx.) of land used to produce rice or potatoes would feed between 19/22 people annually. The same land given over to animal farming would feed two people. Is this a case for vegetarians’? Perhaps, when we add that meat production requires 50% more water than vegetables.

1501_09_4_thumb[1]Furthermore, they suggest that 40% of the world’s food supply is derived from irrigated land. However, they say that such use of the land is unsustainable due to the fact that the water supply is poorly sourced. The use of the flood method and/or the overhead spray is wasteful due to loss through evaporation. The most condemning aspect of their findings stems from the fact that much of the water used in irrigation farming comes from sinking ‘boreholes’ into poorly managed aquifers.

“In some cases government programmes and international aid interventions exacerbate this problem.”


I find it difficult to comprehend the logic of such developments, especially the use of international aid in such circumstances. It is of course the blight of short-termism. The narrow vision that uses ‘aid’ money for a quick fix leads down a blind alley and can end up costing more to rectify. Solving the immediate problem is not always the expedient thing to do.

Water is a scarce resource and must be treated as such by everyone. Therefore, the proposal by ‘imeche’ should even now be adopted to replace the flood method and the spray method by the drip or trickle method. While the installation of the drip/trickle method will prove more expensive the cost will be offset by the 33% saving on water used in these areas. Sustainability, I have heard the cry so often and yet when it comes right down to it those in a position to lead fail.

Another important point raised by the ‘imeche’ report is the amount of energy used to produce our food. I was surprised to read that between 3-5% of the world’s natural gas supply was being used to produce fertilizer. A further eye-catching piece of information was that over 3% of ‘annual global energy consumption’ is used in food production from the humble tractor, to harvest, storage, distribution and processing. How many trucks drive on our roads carrying foodstuffs to various locations?

We force the cost of living up by the sheer volume of our waste. A new approach to food production through to consumption is needed. For too long we have frittered away our energy, our resources, and people’s lives in an arbitrary fashion simply because it was convenient to do so. Has me, ‘moi’, and ‘mich’ and ‘a mi’, finally taken over our thought processes to the extent that we are blind to the needs of others? Are we blasé about the ozone layer, and thoughtless towards animal welfare? Lemmings come to mind!

Folks need to pay more attention to the philosophy of Bob Marley:

Get up, stand upthCAAXUSTO

Stand up for your rights

Get up, stand up

Never give up the fight.


Food waste is too important an issue to ignore; take Bob Marley’s words to heart.







Food Waste: Fingertip Power.


The problem of food waste is world-wide and therefore requires a global solution. Food waste is an issue that should concern everyone. Yet, nothing gets done, why? The most powerful people in the world have talked about it: the G8, the leaders from the top 8 nations in the world, met in Hokkaido, Japan (2008) the UN has talked about it and written reams of reports, the European Union (EU) has talked about it and had reports written. So all the big guys who are supposed to give us direction have talked but crucially have not involved us. Therein lies the missing link, YOU!

In the USA, food being tossed away costs around $165bn and the situation is getting

Buddy can you spare a dime?

Buddy can you spare a dime?

worse. It is hard to figure but in America 80% of water use goes into food production. These numbers might seem incredible and they are because they don’t need to be, much of it is waste. However, the sting in the tail is the 35 million tonnes that end up in landfill which produces 23% of the methane gas emissions of the country.

However, the USA is not the sole culprit, food waste is found everywhere. In South Africa, it is estimated that 10% of annual food sales is wasted. This amounts to a staggering 1.4 million tonnes the equivalent of $2.7bn or R21.7 billion rand.(science direct) While the UN reports that post-harvest technologies could significantly increase food supply in sub-Sahara Africa which the UN suggest costs $4bn and that the grain loss could feed 48 million people. Is it not just too staggering to take in that we could and actually should be feeding FORTY-EIGHT million but don’t because of waste! /

In India with a population of 1.2 billion and where millions are living below the poverty line and unknown numbers are dying of starvation produces enough food to feed all of their people. Food prices are rising steeply in the country and yet 1/3 of fresh crops are wasted. The main reason is poor organisation, a lack of storage facilities and poor quality distribution. India is brimming with talented people and yet little or no progress on food waste. I find it completely bizarre that a nation that has the technology to potentially send a rocket to Mars cannot solve the problems of storage or distribution.

One country that seems to have its act together is New Zealand where figures suggest that 60% of households do some composting. Another 10%, it is estimated have ‘worm farms’, good stuff. You might think the ‘worm’ thing does not sound too nice but it is one clear way of getting to know the eco-system and if you have little guys, teaching them how the world goes round. (Wikipedia)

Here in the UK the Government has taken action by the setting up of a number of ‘quangos’:

  • Waste and Resource Action Programme (2000)
  •    (2007)
  • War on waste in 2009 not much of a war, no one knew about it!
  • Zero waste campaign 2010. Never heard of it.

Thus the government is doing something but it’s like entering a carthorse in a formula 1 motor race.

All politicians seem to have a forte for committee meetings. Committees, committees, committees, it’s enough to make you commit Hara-Kiri! Perhaps they will listen to Lewis Carroll;

‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

Through the Looking-Glass (1872) ch. 2

Better news comes from the government website,  where it highlights the setting up of a Strategy and Action Plan in June 2011 and the continual development of a process called Anaerobic Digestion (AD). This is a natural process which involves the absence of oxygen but with micro-organisms which degrades the waste into biogas and produces a rich fertilizer. The system of AD has been in use for 100 years breaking down sewage sludge.

According to the website AD has a number of advantages over, wind, tidal and solar power. The biogas can be stored or used for heavy goods vehicles ( HGV’s). The gas is also cheaper to produce and much quicker to put into production. A significant plus for AD is that it could deliver between 3 & 5 Terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity by 2020. Of course I don’t have a clue how much power this amounts to or the number of homes it could potentially light and heat or for how long. What I do know is that it equals 1 trillion watts and that seems a lot. Any help out there?

The downside is that the developers hint at ‘significant barriers’ but don’t elucidate in any way. One negative is the residual water from the process which requires treatment before it is released into the watercourses.(Wikipedia) There are now 78 AD plants in operation but no indication of size or output.

The really big news about AD is that it can be established anywhere in the world. Every country can build their own, get rid of all their waste and celebrate with lots of biogas and extremely useful fertilizer. Oh, why are we waiting, why are we waiting, tell me why, oh, why, why, why, why. Sing along. Why…

‘The time has come,’ the walrus said, ‘To talk of many things,’ (Lewis Carroll)

We need to get to it and get completely, totally, nakedly selfish: feeding the world won’t cost you a penny or a cent. Saving the planet from 1/3 methane gas won’t cost you any money either. Globally, according to the UN food waste costs $680bn for industrial nations and $310bn for developing countries; a grand total of $990 billion. Now that’s what I call waste. Add to that figure the 30% methane gas and you start to grasp just thCARUAXF6how crazy we really are.

Moreover, we contribute £ $ billions annually to charity in order to solve a mess that should not have occurred in the first place. Not all donations to charity are spent on providing food. Many animals and the environment benefit from our charitable giving. On top of all that there are significant personal savings of £680 = $1090 annually. (WRAP) Have another read of Achim Steiner’s statement: the fight to eradicate food waste is a major benefit in every aspect of our lives. We help the animals, we aid the environment and feed all so none go hungry and save billions £ $ in doing so.

It’s a win, win, win, situation. And all by being perfectly selfish: brilliant!

All of this is free to you because YOU have the fingertip power. Only YOU can make it happen.

We have seen from the number of committees that politicians have set up that they find it difficult to make a real decision; the reason is they need you. You need to tell them to get off their xxxxx and spend some money doing the positive thing. Otherwise they will just sit in committees and have lunches. A www campaign could get their bowels moving. Make it so!

I started the sequence on food waste with a snippet of a poem by Dylan Thomas. I’ll finish with a poem written by Thomas, before his 16th birthday. In effect a child wrote this many, many years ago.


My tears are like the quiet drift

Of petals from some magic rose;

And all my grief flows from the rift

Of unremembered skies and snows.

I think, that if I touch the earth,

It would crumble;

It is so sad and beautiful,

So tremulously like a dream.

Dylan Thomas The Poems, by Daniel Jones

I can recommend: The ploughman’s gone.

There is so much good can be done by ending the scandal of food waste.