The European Union (EU) says food waste
is a serious problem, with approximately 89 million tons of food being tossed away each year. Through its Food Use Social Innovations by Optimising Waste Strategies (FUSIONS) program, the EU aims to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2025.
Although the FUSIONS program originated in Brussels, other countries are taking part as well. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization is participating, as are 20 universities in Europe. The issue of food waste is nothing new — in 2009 Bruxelles Environnement
taught 1000 people food conservation strategies through cooking classes. The European Parliament recommends food conservation be taught in schools.
What causes so much food waste in Europe? According to Selina Juul of the "Stop Wasting Food" movement, the problem begins as early as harvest time and packaging.
"It starts on the field. When you have cucumbers that are crooked or carrots that are too small, or that deviate in color too much, they'll be disposed of," she says. "During the packaging process another 20 percent of foodstuffs are lost."
University of Wageningen project coordinator Toine Timmermans agrees. "We know that 25 to 30 percent of products made for consumption end up getting lost at some point in the supply chain," he says.
Other causes of food waste include
improper food packaging and storage, marketing strategies that encourage consumers to buy more, poor food packaging and storage, expiration date confusion and oversized portion sizes.
According to the EU, there are a number of ways Europeans can reduce the amount of food being wasted. They recommend being aware of sell-by and expiration dates, planning meals before grocery shopping, storing food at the proper temperature, making use of leftovers and turning unwanted food into compost.
The holiday season is a time when food waste is especially prevalent due to large meals being served. "People who are at a home should take a look and see if they can try out recipes first before they cook those meals for 10 or 20 guests," recommends Timmerman.
Juul recommends sending dinner guests home with leftovers, and does her part each year by delivering extra food collected from restaurants and shops to homeless shelters in Copenhagen.
Food sustainability is an issue affecting more than just the landfills. The EU reports the production and consumption of food generates 20-30 percent of environmental impacts, 17 percent of greenhouse emissions and 28 percent of material resource use in Europe.