What is food waste and why does it matter?

October 13, 2022

As the global population continues to grow and hundreds of millions of people remain malnourished, ensuring the efficient allocation of food resources is a key sustainability goal for all countries.

However, the global population is generating an enormous amount food waste which is literally being thrown away.In fact, one third of food is wasted globally. That means we are throwing away the huge quantities of food we could be using to feed those in need of nourishment. So the global food waste problem is a resource allocation challenge of the highest order.

The good news is there’s a lot families can do to help. Read on to learn how kids and their parents can get involved in being part of the food waste solution.



Food waste is any food which is fit for human consumption that ends up being discarded rather than consumed.It includes food that is left to spoil or expire, as well as edible food which is thrown out for any other reasons. Food wastage generally occurs at the retail and consumption stages of the food supply chain.



There’s no getting around the fact, food waste is a big problem.

As mentioned, a shocking one third of all food produced around the world is lost or wasted each year. That’s a massive 1.3 billion tonnes of food that’s being thrown away! That amount of wastage is costing the global economy around $US940 billion p.a. and it is contributing up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The situation is similar in Australia, where 7.6 million tonnes of food is wasted each year, which represents 316 kg of edible food per person. That huge amount of wastage is costing the Australian economy a whopping $36.6 billion p.a.

So while the food waste problem is a major environmental challenge, it’s also a significant financial challenge that affects us all.



Considering one in nine people are undernourished globally, the food waste problem is a particularly perplexing challenge for many people to understand. It seems so obvious that we should be giving the food that’s being thrown away to the people around the world who are in need of more food.

So let’s delve into why so much food waste is being generated to understand the nature of the problem. As with most sustainability challenges, the answer is far from simple and there are a number of reasons for the growing amount of food waste:

1.   Oversized servings – Server and container sizes have been on the rise in recent years, which is leading to more people not finishing their servings. This is a particularly prevalent issue in the US.

2.   Expectations of perfect-looking fruit and veggies – More consumers are expecting their fruit and veggies to be the ideal shape, size, and colour, and that’s leading to weak demand for produce which is less-than-perfect. There’s no difference in the nutritional value of unusual-looking fruit and veggies, so this is a consumer mind-set challenge.

3.   Confusing labels – Many labels are unclear about when exactly an item is likely to become inedible, and that’s leading to an excess of food being thrown out while it’s still edible. It has been estimated that food label confusion represents 7%of all waste.

4.   Most food waste isn’t being tracked – Food retailers often don’t track their food waste despite the fact waste tracking technology has improved in recent years. Hopefully, this situation will change looking forward as the technology further improves.

5.   Overstocked supermarkets – The supermarket sector throws out a huge amount of baked goods, produce, meat, and ready-made food in the name of quality control each year. However, supermarket management teams are often avoiding the real issue which is rightsizing their stocking rate to a realistic expectation of local demand.

6.    Lack of food rescue and recycling services – There just aren’t enough drop off points to cater for the enormous amount of food waste being created all around the world.



So how can kids and their parents reduce their food waste and thus become a part of the solution? The good news is there’s a lot families can do:

1.   Adopt a healthier, more sustainable diet – Parents can take the opportunity to ensure their family is eating a nutritious diet, and kids can learn about the amazing benefits of eating a healthy diet.

2.   Buy only what you need from the supermarket – Making a change as simple as writing out a shopping list of what your family needs and then only buying what’s on the list could save you valuable money and food waste.

3.   Pick the ugly fruit and veggies which may otherwise become food waste – The kids can give the funny-looking fruits and veggies funny names and dinner preparation will become more entertaining for all.

4.   Store food wisely to ensure it remains fresh for longer – Buying a few high quality plastic containers is likely to help reduce your food wastage.

5.   Understand food labelling, particularly the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘used by’ dates - Remember, a ‘best before’ date doesn’t mean food should be thrown out after that date, whereas a ‘used by’ date does.

6.   Start with smaller food portions and share meals to reduce waste – This is a great opportunity for families to save money and food waste. If there’s a member of your family who generally leaves food on their plate, start ordering entrees or shared meals for them.

7.   Keep your leftovers rather than throwing them away – As the famous expression goes,‘waste not, want not’. By keeping food leftovers, there will be a lot more food for the family to enjoy. 

8.   Eat your veggie ends and stems – Don’t throw away the veggie leaves and stalks. They’re often the most nutritious part, and are worthy of being eaten.



If you do happen to generate some food waste, what’s the best way to ensure it doesn’t go to waste?

The first thing to do is to research the food banks in your local area. Find out where you can donate any food that would otherwise be wasted. Groups like Foodbank are great starting points. There are also a number of apps that connect people with local businesses which can use any surplus food.

And if for some reason you can’t donate your surplus food to someone who can use it, remember to compost your food waste so its nutrients go back into the soil where they can contribute to the growth of new produce.



Beyond the financial and social benefits of reducing food waste, the environmental benefits are significant.

At the top of the list is the reduced greenhouse gas emissions the wasted food generated in the food production process. Then there’s the freshwater used, the lives of the farm animals used in meat production, and the vast amount of forest cut down to produce the food.

The key point to remember is that the extensive resources required to produce food are precious resources which need to be managed sustainably.



So the global food waste problem is a serious sustainability challenge that deserves all of our attention. By making some small changes in shopping and eating habits, families are able to make a big contribution to the solution. By doing so, families will not only be helping address one of the world’s greatest environmental and social challenges, they will also save money and potentially improve their health. Living more sustainably is once again a win-win for people and planet.

And while we’re talking about win-wins, check out the latest Genus missions which blend online fun with real world missions to help kids build a brighter, more sustainable future. Genus makes it easy for kids to have fun while they learn about the world’s sustainability challenges.

Jon Owen
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