How do we produce food

Food: Between Appreciation and Waste

Waste from the field to the plate

There are numerous reasons why food is disposed of along the entire value chain.

It already starts in agriculture. In some cases, food that does not meet market requirements is not even harvested here. If the shape, size or color deviate from the requirements of the buyers (processors, wholesalers, retailers, consumers), sales are not guaranteed. And if the market prices are too low, the harvest is not worthwhile for the farmer. Particularly sensitive fruit and vegetables, such as strawberries or lettuce, are perishable and require careful handling.

With long transport routes and storage, not every food makes it to its destination fresh and undamaged. The requirement to have everything freshly available at all times leads to a large supply and ultimately to overproduction. In order to offer consumers the full range, wholesalers have to keep all groceries in stock so that retailers can deliver goods at short notice. As a result, foods that lose their freshness and products whose best-before and use-by dates are about to be reached are rejected early.

And these are just a few examples and by no means all of the reasons why food is wasted.

The following graphic shows what is thrown away in households

Appreciating food more valuable

Many people have lost their appreciation for food. This is due to the constant availability of all food at a low price. Food has become cheaper and cheaper over the decades. In 1950, spending on food and beverages was 50 percent of household income and currently only a good ten percent.

The trend towards fast food and ready-made products continues unabated. The changed daily work routine and the shortage of time have led to the fact that almost 40 percent of food expenditure is now in out-of-home catering - with an upward trend. It goes without saying that knowledge and skills in food selection, storage and preparation remain "by the wayside".

Effects on the environment, resources and supply

  • Every food thrown away is associated with a high consumption of energy, water and other raw materials in the chain from cultivation to retail. For example, almost 30 percent of the cultivation areas available worldwide are unnecessarily "used" for the amount of food thrown away.
  • Food losses also have a negative impact on the climate. The EU's avoidable food waste causes the same amount of CO each year2-Release a lot of climate-damaging gases like the Netherlands as a whole.
  • A third of all food produced ends up in the bin useless - a total of around 1.3 billion tons per year. In many poor countries around the world, on the other hand, the supply of food is inadequate. There is often a lack of appropriate transport, storage and cooling options, so that large quantities of food spoil prematurely. But this also happens because local arable land is used for food exports to high-income countries. In addition, there is land use for the cultivation of animal feed and biofuel. As a result, there is a lack of space for people to eat.
  • The overproduction and the resulting food losses increase the demand for raw materials such as grain. This in turn increases the prices of important staple foods, which poor countries are particularly hard hit.

What can I do? Tips to avoid food waste

We can all start saving food today, because each of us throws away food worth around 230 euros on average. With a more conscious approach, annual savings of 100 euros per person and more are realistic. You are not only doing something good for environmental and climate protection, but also protecting your wallet at the same time.

At home

On average, every German citizen throws away around 75 kilograms of food a year; two thirds of this is avoidable food waste (approx. 50 kg).

  • Before shopping, check your supplies and buy as needed.
  • Plan together with the family to take wishes and absences into account.
  • Always keep an eye on the supply so that no groceries are forgotten.
  • Get creative - plan your existing foods into your meals.
  • Does a pepper, zucchini or fruit have a dent? Use quickly before the fruit / vegetables start to go moldy.
  • Overripe fruit can be used to make compotes, jams or cakes.
  • Clean the refrigerator and pantry regularly.
  • Freeze leftover food in suitable containers or store in cool glasses and eat it the next day (for example, take it to work).

When shopping and eating out

  • Buy fresh and perishable foods such as bread and fruit / vegetables in the right quantities.
  • Avoid spontaneous purchases and bulk purchases from special offers as far as possible - unless you know that you will be using up the discounted products in the near future.
  • Want to go to the supermarket quickly because ingredients are missing for dinner? Then buy groceries that are about to reach their best-before date and don't reach right at the back of the shelf.
  • Let your supermarket and bakery know that you can very well accept not being given a huge choice of bread or vegetables in the evening.
  • They have a farm shop nearby - buy fruit and vegetables there, you can also get the crooked cucumber!
  • You've been to the restaurant to eat but haven't made it - have the food wrapped up for you to enjoy later or the next day.
  • Food waste can also be avoided in the cafeteria (school, university, company canteen) - e.g. if you are not hungry you can ask for a smaller portion.
  • Bread from the day before is sometimes a little cheaper - it is usually more digestible and you also save money.

And what do politics, agriculture and the food industry do?

According to data from the Federal Government to the EU (Baseline 2015), of the 12 million tonnes of food waste in Germany, 12% is accounted for by agriculture, 18% by processing, 4% by trade and 14% by out-of-home catering. A good half of all waste is generated in private households. This means that food waste does not only affect consumers, it also affects the entire food chain from agriculture to retail.

In the public debate, consumers are often "accused" as the culprit, for example because they misunderstand the best-before date and throw away food that could still be consumed. However, a significant reduction in food waste along the entire chain from cultivation to consumption is only possible if all actors take responsibility and change their actions.

This content was created by the consumer centers North Rhine-Westphalia and Bremen for the network of consumer centers in Germany.