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These Short Films Sum Up The Huge, Ridiculous Problem Of Food Waste

The world puts scarce water, fossil fuels, and pesticides to growing food, but then goes ahead and tosses away 30% of it. In no other system would that be acceptable.

The world currently wastes 30% of all food that it produces, and there are two main reasons why that is such a tragedy. The first is obvious. The calories could go to feeding people who are hungry. But the other is less so: Food waste has a pretty big environmental footprint.

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These two short animated videos were produced by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and they do a good job of summing up the wider consequences of food waste. For instance, we learn that 28% of the world’s agricultural land grows lost food (the total land area of China, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia). And that the water used to grow wasted food equals the volume of the Volga or Zambezi rivers (or all household water use combined). And, that wasted food generates 3.3 gigatons of greenhouse gases a year–the output of the third heaviest emitting country.

Here’s the first video:

The second film concentrates more on the economic damage from wasted food, and looks at potential ways t reduce it. At producer prices, 30% of global food loss equals about $750 billion dollars. Climate costs run to $390 billion. Related water losses come in at $172 billion, while the impact in cleared forest and eroded land equals $73 billion.

And that’s before you get to the social costs, which are harder, or impossible, to calculate. These include the effect of pesticides on human health, the conflicts spurred by water resource shortages, and the cost of subsidies that distort markets and, in the U.S. at least, lead to unhealthy eating habits.

Here’s the second video:

Finally, the video makes the point that not all waste reduction strategies are equal. While it makes sense to use unused food for making biogas and for producing compost, for example, it makes more sense not to let food rot in the first place. That means investing in better food storage and transport, particularly in the developing world, and educating the public that not eating food you buy has planetary implications.

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What the narrator says is clear. “How ever we look at it, reducing food [waste] makes sense economically, environmentally, and socially.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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