The society we live in today has become increasingly wasteful. We often want the best products for the cheapest possible prices. This attitude has implications on the economy, but more importantly the environment. In terms of the economy, local businesses producing food are becoming obsolete through a vicious cycle of raised expectations of products and increased competition lowering prices. It appears we would rather supermarkets to give us the same amount of product for lower prices – we care more about our pockets than we care about local producers for our foods. In consideration of the environment, fertilisers and other chemicals used throughout food production are wasted if the item is thrown out, as well as the transportation of getting the product to the stores. UNEP suggest food in landfill has a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, we are increasingly wasteful in textile products as clothing becomes more affordable, and as stores develop in availability. More and more clothing is going to landfill with a lack of knowledge of recycling facilities.
Considering around 795 million people worldwide do not have enough food to live an active healthy lifestyle (World Food Programme), it is hard to comprehend how much food waste is created in the UK alone. Despite significant efforts to reduce this, UK households still throw away 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food and drink annually, shown in figure 1. Sell-by dates are a huge factor in food waste because people throw out perfectly edible items just because some guidelines on the packet advise not to eat it. 1 million tonnes of this sort of waste is in packaging that hasn’t even been opened, costing consumers around £2.4 billion per year. Adjustment to a less wasteful lifestyle could incorporate buying less and using more food in different ways, as well as storing food in freezers where it is more likely to keep. I am definitely not the only one who thinks it is ridiculous that supermarkets can cause so much waste just because an item isn’t “cosmetically appealing” to the customers. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall investigated this recently in a BBC documentary visiting a family run parsnip farm. Guidelines meant they weren’t allowed to sell piles of parsnips that could have fed 100,000 people a “generous portion” so how can we get away with this waste when people are going starving?
Figure 1 – A breakdown of food waste, showing the majority is avoidable. http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/household-food-and-drink-waste-uk-2012
The extent of our wasteful attitude is not even limited to food. Like food, clothing now changes with the seasons, and this means retailers and customers feel the need to keep up with fashion. This results in mountains of clothes being thrown out daily! In the UK it is estimated that £140 million worth of used clothing, equalling 350,000 tonnes, goes to landfill each year. There is not just an issue with our wasteful attitude, but a lack of awareness of recycling facilities: according to WRAP 41% of people are unaware of textile recycling. If we change the way we dispose of clothing, we could reduce carbon and water footprints of the industry consumption by around 10-20% which could cut around £3 billion of costs of resources. Zero Waste Europe suggest this needs to be incorporated into the upcoming COP21 in December as a climate friendly strategy of continually cycling materials through the economy.
There needs to be a call to minimise waste through policies in a waste hierarchy, where prevention is most important, followed by reuse and recycling. Distribution of food is already unequal, and is likely to change under future climates. Therefore, it is important for every individual to act to make a change. Think before you throw.