Food waste

From the change wiki

Food waste is one of the major inefficiencies that cause global hunger and deforestation.

About 25% of the world's food goes to waste. In rich countries such as USA and Canada, it's over 50%. About half of this comes from businesses, and the other half comes from individual people.

Actions to take

Collective actions ✊🏻✊🏽✊🏿

Individual actions

  • Learn how to make use of everything before it goes bad
  • Buy day-old food (at a discount) from restaurants, bakeries, cafes, etc.
    • Even if you know they don't offer it, ask them anyway, just to let them know that people are interested.
  • Boldly break social norms! When you're at a public event and you see half-eaten plates of food abandoned, be weird and just start eating them. When haters ask what you're doing, use this as an opportunity to school them about food waste.
  • Try dumpster diving to recover perfectly good food that businesses throw out!
Note: Only do the last 2 things if you have a healthy immune system.

Why those actions matter the most ↑

Business food waste (commercial / retail)

Much of the food that businesses waste, would be perfectly safe to eat. This may include:

  • Day-old donuts, muffins, and other baked goods.
  • Fruits and vegetables with a few bad spots that could be easily cut off.
  • Damaged packages - for example if a dozen eggs has 1 broken, they often throw out the other 11 because the store isn't set up to sell individual eggs.

Businesses waste food that can't be sold.

Unpredictability of demand

Suppose you own a bakery. During the hours that you're open, you need to have fresh food available at all times. You don't know exactly when the next customer will walk in, or what they will order. You don't know exactly how many customers you'll have that day. So you err on the side of baking more than what you typically sell - just in case you get a lot of customers that day. You'll probably lose some money by not selling everything. But it's less money than you would have lost by not baking enough and then selling out of things.

So at the end of the day, you only sold half of the things you baked. You can sell some of the leftovers at a discount tomorrow. But there just aren't as many people buying day-olds compared to the number of people buying fresh stuff that you will bake tomorrow. So ultimately, most of your day-old goods end up in the trash.

Some lessons learned from here:

Food waste could be reduced if:

  • If goods had a longer shelf life
  • If more people were willing to buy day-olds
  • If customers had a lot of free time, and could order something and wait for it to bake
  • If there was some sort of weird subscription service so the bakery would know exactly how many customers to serve, ahead of time

Personal food waste

Sometimes, when food gets dried out or stale, people mistakenly think that it is rotten or moldy when it is not.

Dried-out food examples:

  • Day-old french fries
  • Corn chips in a package that wasn't closed properly
  • Rice that was in an open container in the fridge
  • Freezer-burned vegetables

These can be recovered fairly easily by putting them in a bowl, covering them with water, and microwaving for a few minutes. Basically this makes a porridge or a soup (might need some seasonings).

This is similar to instant rice, or instant mashed potatoes, or instant soups (...)( food is cooked in the factory, then dried out, then packaged, then re-boiled at home ).

Disclaimer: Before you do this, make sure there isn't actually any mold.

Another food that people often waste is spices, as they get old. In richer countries, it's common for people to throw out more spices than they actually use. Things to keep in mind:

  • Spices lose flavor as they get old, but are still safe to eat (even when they are clumpy), and still contain some nutrients.
  • If a spice has half the flavor, just use twice as much. It's easier to finish up old packages that way.

Apathy and more

There are people who seem to just not care - people who eat half of what's on their plate, and then throw the rest out. Some possible motivations for this behavior:

  • Misjudging how much food one plans to eat.
  • Cultural norms - treating food waste like it's not a big deal.
  • Being afraid of "looking weird" by caring when other people don't.
  • Not wanting to get fat by finishing the whole meal (...)( this is likely to backfire by being more hungry later (unless one is genuinely full - in which case, food could be saved for later - but perhaps social norms get in the way of that, as mentioned above) )
  • At restaurants:
    • Not wanting to be the "slow one" who is still eating when everyone else is done
    • Avoiding the awkwardness of carrying the food to whatever activity is planned for after the restaurant
    • Thinking that the 'to go' packaging is worse for the environment than the food waste
  • At events:
    • Not wanting to carry around the same plate of food everywhere
    • De-valuing the refreshments because they're "free"
  • On lunch breaks at work:
    • Breaks too short, not enough time to finish food, and nowhere to store it.


"Does food wasted in North America really affect starving kids in Africa?"

Yes. Food is a global market. When Americans (or anyone else) waste food, it shrinks the global food supply. Prices go up, and people with the least money are the first to suffer.

See also

Other causes of food waste

Other food inefficiencies

General problems

External links