Waste not, want less
Social studies show that nine out of ten Australians experience guilt when discarding a half-eaten sandwich they should never have purchased, and generally do not require an enlightening lecture on the plight of starving third-world children.
When caught up in the constant juggle between study, work, health, family and friends, it is far too easy to ignore issues that we know deserve greater attention. Close to one billion people worldwide go hungry each day, while developed countries such as ours produce almost double the amount required to satisfy the nutritional needs of their populations.
But, with much of the media focussing on what we eat, how much we eat, and how often we eat it, how regularly do we contemplate what it means to waste?
Ugly Vegetable Syndrome
It is estimated that between 20-40% of all perfectly edible fruits and vegetables are rejected for cosmetic reasons before they reach the supermarket shelves. In addition, fruit and vegetables also make up the highest percentage of household food waste. The United States Economic Research Service reports that 7% of supermarket meat products are discarded without sale, and 30% of purchased meat is discarded uneaten.
So what happens to that bag of apples festering in the bottom of the fridge? Or those leftovers, tossed aside when we ordered pizza instead?
Where does it all go when we have had enough?
According to the food-rescue charity OzHarvest, 3.28 million tonnes of food are driven to landfills across Australia each year. Despite the introduction of green-bins and compost centres in some residential areas, food and other green wastes still contribute to 47% of overall landfill waste.
A Rotten Problem
As this organic matter begins to rot it releases methane - a gas with a greenhouse effect 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Although some of this gas is captured, purified and used to generate electricity, the landfill sector remains Australia’s second largest producer of methane. Another by-product of this process is the toxic leachate that invades surrounding ecosystems, threatening the contamination of soil and groundwater. All this pollution, however, is merely one aspect of the problem.
In a country as vast and arid as Australia, the sustainable use of resources is a fundamental responsibility.
The CSIRO reports that a single kilogram of potatoes is equivalent to the 500 litres of water it required during production. To put this into perspective: every kilogram of beef that is discarded – including those out-of-date sausages in the freezer – wastes an approximate 100,000 litres of water. Consider, again, the excess produce that farmers must supply in order to satisfy aesthetic requirements, and it is no wonder that the Murray Darling Basin is in such a state.
So if we already know these problems exist, why waste an article reminding everyone?
Not to spread feelings of guilt and gloom, but perhaps to evoke a little anger, ownership and defiance. It is we who consume the products that encourage Ugly Vegetable Syndrome and overproduction on a daily basis.
And as consumers, it is our choices that have the potential to bring about positive change.
Many of us are already sporting worm-farms and compost bins, planning our shopping lists and sharing brilliant recipes for leftovers. For everyone else, this is simply a reminder that, next time we peer into the depths of our shopping baskets, we have some serious decisions to make.
If we don’t mind our carrots bent and our bananas speckled, we need to prove it.