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Food wastage crisis in India

Alkesh Goswami, Housekeeping Manager, P D Hinduja National Hospital, shares his insights on critical situations and solutions for food wastage in India.

Food waste or food loss is that which is left uneaten or discarded. Food loss is not only at the end of the chain, but also at the beginning from the time of production, processing, retailing and consumption.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the total global food production is wasted, costing the world economy about $750 billion. Annually, close to `31 million (70-75%) of waste is dumped into open landfill sites. Globally, India currently ranks seventh in terms of overall food wastageagricultural produce, poultry and milk.

Food wastage crisis in India

  • Around 67 million tonnes of food is wasted in India every year which has been valued at around `92,000 crores; enough to feed all of Bihar
    for a year
  • Annually, close to 21 million metric tonnes of wheat rots in India; a figure that is equal to Australia’s total annual production
  • According to the BMC, Mumbai generates close to 9,400 metric tonnes of solid waste per day, from which 73% is food, vegetable, and fruit waste, while only 3% is plastic. The garbage dumps in Mumbai are as tall as five or six storey buildings
  • Delhi generates around 9000 metric tonnes of waste per day, with the country’s largest landfill located in East Delhi. This landfill is 70 acres vast and contains close to 12 million tonnes of waste that are as high as 50 feet.

Effects

With numbers as high as this, current systems in the country are not able to cope with the burden, subsequently leading to negative effects on the environment and public health. Open landfills lead to the development of methane, which absorbs the sun’s heat, warms the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Methane is also known to cause fire or explosions.

Further, several toxins and/or a black liquid known as leachate, oozes from the waste, which is absorbed by the soil/ground, leading to the contamination of ground water. These overflowing landfills have today become the root cause of blocked drains, soil and water pollution.

Solution

Simple steps such as those mentioned below, can help play an instrumental role in reducing and managing the excessive waste generated:

In the households

  • Shop and cook smartly to avoid waste
  • Make a list before your grocery shopping day to avoid bringing in unnecessary food products to your kitchen
  • Make the children aware of the importance of food and the impact of food waste on environment
  • Make it a habit to give the uneaten food left from your household parties to donate to charities through NGOs in your area.
  • Create your own compost at your premises to make fertilizers for your gardens

In the commercial/industrial/other sectors

  • Follow essential food safety techniques to avoid food waste
  • Set up of food waste audit will help realizehow and why food has been wasted.
  • Maintain a weekly record of tracking the quantities of served food and sales
  • Trained staff and correct techniques in food handling and safety does reduce food waste
  • Keep skins on vegetables and to avoid food waste
  • Maintain a correct temperature and good storage facility for perishables items
  • Regular checking of temperatures, seals on fridges and freezers and rotation of stock to keep them fresh will bring down spoilage.
  • Offering flexible serving sizes and assessing portion sizes in favour of the customers would lead to prevent food waste.

Solutions implemented by other countries:

In addition to the above, the best way to overcome this current burden of food wastage in India is to implement successful and innovative solutions undertaken by other developed and developing countries.

For example:

  • In France, it is mandatory for supermarkets to donate unsold food items to charity or farmers to convert them into fertilizers
  • Canada recovers unused food items from manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, etc. and delivers these food ingredients to be used to cook over 22,000 meals every day
  • Sweden implemented a recycling revolution, wherein less than 1% of household waste ends up in landfills and of the 4.4 million tons of household waste produced every year, 2.2 million is converted into energy.

Food waste is impacting our environment in several ways and in a way impacting us too and it is time we work towards it. We at P.D. Hinduja Hospital & MRC are trying our best to deal with the situation by giving all our left-over food to an NGO called ROTI, which not only lessen our food waste but also gives us mental satisfaction that our food is being used to feed hungry people.

Food waste or food loss is that which is left uneaten or discarded. Food loss is not only at the end of the chain, but also at the beginning from the time of production, processing, retailing and consumption. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the total global food production is wasted, costing the world economy about $750 billion. Annually, close to `31 million (70-75%) of waste is dumped into open…

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