Around the world, fruits and vegetables are wasted at much higher rates than meats and fish. Roughly 40%-50% of fruits and vegetables are thrown in the garbage on average, versus just 20% of meats and 35% of fish, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
But according to Max Elder, a researcher at Food Futures Lab at the Institute for the Future, those wasted meats and fish, although smaller in quantity, might be doing a lot more harm to the environment than the fruits and veggies.
“Not all food waste is created equal,” Elder wrote in an op-ed for Quartz. “It turns out that all of the different costs of food waste, whether measured in terms of water, the economy, the environment, or animal welfare, vary greatly by the type of food that is being tossed in the trash.”
One of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of food waste, Elder argued, is to simply not throw away meat and fish — and maybe eat a bit less of it to begin with.
According to Elder, the environmental impact of wasted meats, for example, is exacerbated by the amount of water it takes to produce meat. The production one pound of meat uses about 54 times the amount of water used to produce one pound of fruits or vegetables, he wrote.
In other words, the resources that go into a wasted hamburger are much higher than the resources that go into a wasted apricot. If one in five hamburgers are thrown out and two in five apricots go to rot, those wasted hamburgers are still far more damaging to the environment.
That’s not to mention that the amount of CO2 emitted by fruit and vegetable production is lower than the carbon emissions for meats and fish, which can emit anywhere from two to 25 times more carbon into the atmosphere than their counterparts.
Reducing meat consumption is by no means the only way to lower the amount of food waste.
Governments can also play a role in reducing food waste from supermarkets, school canteens, and public offices. The European Union’s Environment Committee pledged to reduce food waste by half by 2030, a decision pushed for the actions of 31,000 Global Citizens. Individual countries, like France and Italy, had already begun implementing policies toward that end.
In the United States, the state of New York is giving tax breaks to companies that don’t let any food go to waste in an effort to eliminate food waste by 2030.
Global Citizen is calling on EU governments to maintain their commitment to reducing food waste. You can take action here.