According to the UN, around one third of all food produced for human consumption each year ends up being thrown away – which is about 1.3 billion tons of food. If that’s hard to visualise, imagine 210 million killer whales. If that feels crushing, it’s because it is. Food waste is becoming a major problem, and its one that we cannot continue to ignore.
In the UK last year, over one million people visited food banks for emergency 3 day food supplies – struggling because their incomes were simply too low. Meanwhile, nearly 3,000 people were sleeping on the streets, without regular food supplies, a figure which does not even take into account those living in temporary accommodation. In the context of this mounting food crisis, it seems criminal to allow so much food to sit rotting in supermarket bins rather than being distributed to those in desperate need.
Not only that, but the food industry has massive environmental implications. There is increasing awareness of the effects of animal rearing on the environment – which is a huge producer of harmful methane gas, as well a big use of resources such as water and grain, which could be used for human consumption. For all the food that is thrown away, all this environmental damage has been completely unnecessary, as no one is even eating the food that is produced – and rotting food only adds to the methane footprint of the food industry.
In the face of this crisis, ‘bin diving’ is a movement that is gaining traction, which sees people break into supermarket bins and take the food that has been thrown away. A far cry from the image of rooting through rotten cabbages, the reality is that most of the food thrown away by supermarkets is still completely safe to eat – most people would agree that use-by dates are a overly-cautious guide rather than the rule and law.
Many charities take advantage of this availability of surplus food, such as FoodCycle, which collects wasted food and cooks communal meals for local communities. However, individuals who do the same are often faced with legal challenges, as ‘bin-diving’ could lead to prosecution under anti-theft laws – a high-profile case last year saw 3 men, who took £33 worth of food from an Iceland bin, arrested by the Metropolitan Police.
Thankfully, Iceland did not pursue the case, but this is telling of the stigma attached to the practice. These three men were punished for simply needing to eat. For those who cannot afford to buy food, taking food that has been thrown away by supermarkets – already marked as not for profit – should not involve legal risks. There should instead be pressure placed on supermarkets to redistribute this food in the first place. And for the rest of us, ‘bin-diving’ is a way of opting out of the current economy, where where big businesses can dictate policy, whilst having horrible records on environmental and human rights.
The amount of food currently going to waste each year is a shameful waste of resources when so many are going hungry. The UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2015 saw a call for halving global food waste by 2030, a commendable goal. But to achieve this, there needs to be a radical re-think of how we approach food waste.
Image Credit: USDA