Wasting food is a crime against humanity
A crime is ravaging the world, and we are all guilty. We have no one to blame but ourselves for the fact that 821 million people worldwide suffer from some level of malnourishment, and every five seconds an innocent child dies from hunger.
We have more than enough food, but too much of it ends up as waste. Every year, about 1.6 billion tons of food, a third of global production for human consumption, is lost or wasted, at a cost of $2.6 trillion when you factor in secondary effects such as methane emissions and soil degradation. Beyond the immediate impact of waste, landfills full of decaying organic matter contribute to about 8 percent of global greenhouse gases, meaning even our current means of disposing of waste are tarnishing our planet. It is not only an economic and environmental issue, but also an ethical one.
In the Arab region specifically, food loss and waste is a major issue. Saudi Arabia wastes an estimated 427kg of food per person per year, almost 300kg more than the global average.
Elsewhere, there are promising developments in waste reduction and disposal. In Europe, Australia, and parts of North America, anaerobic digestion has increased in popularity. It essentially turns organic waste — which would otherwise end up decomposing in a landfill and releasing methane — into biogas fuel, gray water, and sediment that can supplement fertilizers instead of nitrification. A great example of this technology’s effective use is in Barcelona, where four treatment centers called Ecoparks integrate anaerobic digestion into their waste management, offering an example for Arab cities.
The environmentalist organization EcoMENA has repeatedly pushed for increased use of biogas in the Middle East, but fossil fuel subsidies, the low cost of dumping, a lack of infrastructure, and a lack of awareness stand in the way of useful and proven technologies such as anaerobic digestion. On an individual level, “smart-kitchen” technology, such as bins that can analyze trash and report which items are overbought and wasted, are a fascinating idea to counter waste, yet remain cost prohibitive to most people.
If an entire region changed its ways, the future of the world would look brighter than it has in a long time
Greater accountability is one key to solving this issue. Tax incentives for food manufacturers, packagers, butchers, hotels, restaurants, wedding venues etc to reduce their waste would be a simple incentive to sustainable dining. More child education about waste, the encouragement of sharing meals at restaurants, allowing only one order of food at a time, the list goes on. If less is used unnecessarily, the simple concept of supply and demand will dictate that less will be produced unnecessarily. An especially important measure is promoting the idea that food, especially fruit and vegetables, does not have to look perfect to be safe to eat, as so many food products are tossed before even hitting the shelves.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) target by 2030 is to halve global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses. The timeframe is a crucial part of the equation; the sooner we act, the more we can do to mitigate the damage. In conjunction with that target, the FAO is proposing an International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. Support for that from the region would be a step in the right direction.
Additional leadership from religious authorities is also crucial. During Ramadan, for example, half the lavish iftar food prepared in Saudi Arabia and 40 percent in the UAE is wasted, despite this being frowned upon in the Qur’an: “And do not waste, for God does not love the wasteful.”
Makkah food charity director Ahmad Al-Matrafi told Arab News: “The food wasted in Makkah could feed 17 percent of hungry children in 18 developing countries.”
And that is just one city. If an entire region changed its ways, the future of the world would look brighter than it has in a long time. With so many precious, finite resources and so many human lives at stake, the only question is, what are we waiting for?
• Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy).