Food waste poses threats at economic, ecological, and social levels, which makes it an urgent topic of investigation. The paper aims at explaining the issue of food waste and describing approaches to the reduction of this problem. The introduction contains a general overview of the paper and presents the components included in the study. Research contains an expanded definition of the ‘food waste’ concept along with its presence in foodservice organizations. Further, food waste management and prevention initiatives to be employed in the foodservice industry are discussed. The challenges and opportunities of food waste mitigation are analyzed. In the conclusion, the main points of the paper are summarized. The research presents a brief but substantial analysis of the food waste problem and approaches to its elimination.
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The problem of food waste is one of the key unresolved issues of the modern world. While people living in some parts of the world throw away the products which they no longer want or which they bought thoughtlessly, others suffer from hunger and are not able to buy any food. However, it is not only the question of inequality that strikes society. Apart from economic complications, food waste generates many problems of social and environmental nature.
Spoiled products can be harmful to people’s or animals’ health. The recycling process for such food is costly and energy-consuming. The foodservice industry is the most dangerous in this respect since it produces large amounts of food, a great part of which remains unwanted and becomes wasted. The present paper offers an overview of the main causes and outcomes of food waste. Solutions for management and prevention of the problem are offered, along with the discussion of barriers to their implementation. The problem of food waste is too serious to be overlooked, and everyone is responsible for making it subside.
Results and Discussion
Defining Food Waste
Food waste is an increasingly aggravating problem of modern society due to several environmental, economic, and social effects. Food waste is composed of the materials which were appointed to be consumed by people but ended up being lost, contaminated, degraded, or discharged (Girotto, Alibardi, & Cossu, 2015). The problem of food waste is linked with various waste management sectors, starting with its collection and ending with disposal. All members of the food supply chain have some effect on food waste management, be it industrial and agricultural companies, retailers, or people who consume food products (Girotto et al., 2015). Hence, every person is directly or indirectly responsible for food waste.
Food waste is not the same for different products, and it can generally be categorized into two large types: plant and animal. Further, as Otles, Despoudi, Bucatariu, and Kartal (2015) note, seven subcategories can be singled out: root and tubers, fruit and vegetables, cereals, oil crops, and pulses, dairy, fish and seafood, and meat products. The categories that are most likely to be wasted are vegetables, fruits, and roots, and tubers. Globally, 40-50% of fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers are wasted or lost (Otles et al., 2015). For cereals and fish, the rate is 30%, and for meat, dairy, and oilseeds, the number reaches 20%. These data urge finding the reasons for food waste and coming up with solutions to this detrimental process.
Some of the major problems causing food waste are slow to progress in waste management development, rapid urbanization, and ineffective approaches to waste management. As Ravindran and Jaiswal (2016) note, food waste putrefies upon accumulation due to having a high nutritional content. As a result, such waste creates conditions for disease-generating organisms’ emergence and spread. Thus, researchers remark that it is crucial to both take preventive measures and find solutions for the already existing masses of food waste.
Food waste also includes food loss, which emerges from the low quality of vegetables, damaged crops that remain in the field, and products with low commercial worth. As Girotto et al. (2015) report, food waste and food loss can happen due to a variety of reasons, including damage during transportation, inappropriate storage or packaging, contamination, or problems during the processing phase.
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Markets and retailers also contribute to food waste and loss. Sometimes, products are not stored at a proper temperature or in a proper place. For instance, various microorganisms and pets can damage food stored in warehouses (Otles et al., 2015). Finally, food can become wasted after being purchased by customers. Frequently, people buy or cook too much, which results in products being thrown away.
The reason why food waste is viewed as a social problem is that at the time, much food is becoming disposed of, many people are suffering from hunger. According to research conducted by Martin-Rios, Demen-Meier, Gössling, and Cornuz (2018), nearly 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted all over the world annually. These numbers typically refer to high-developed countries, whereas in developing states, more than 800 million people are reported to be chronically undernourished (Martin-Rios et al., 2018). Taking into consideration the major causes and outcomes of food waste, it is relevant to analyze the industry in which this negative process occurs most frequently.
Food Waste in Food Service Organizations
Foodservice organizations are commonly the ones responsible for most of the food waste. According to Heikkilä, Reinikainen, Katajajuuri, Silvennoinen, and Hartikainen (2016), the foodservice sector produces a considerable amount of avoidable food waste, which leads to economic and ecological losses. Not only is the money lost when food is thrown away instead of being consumed. There is a detrimental impact on the environment due to the time and effort wasted on the production and processing of raw materials into food that later is thrown away.
Foodservice organizations are a part of the tourist industry, one of the most highly-developed areas in the world. The foodservice industry incorporates fast-food chains, cafés, cafeterias, restaurants, dining rooms, canteens, and catering options (Martin-Rios et al., 2018). The industry is currently the leader in the number of individuals employed. Over 14 million people work in food service organizations in the USA, and 8 million – in Europe. Such a state of affairs leads to billions of meals being served annually (Martin-Rios et al., 2018). Therefore, food service organizations play a significant role in global food waste rates.
Food Waste Management and Initiatives for Food Waste Reduction in the Food Service Industry
There are three major factors related to sustainable waste management in the foodservice industry. They include stringent environmental policies with escalated environmental concerns, sustainable use of resources, and waste disposal costs (Otles et al., 2015). The industry produces biodegradable waste in large amounts, as well as leaves residue with high demands for biochemical and chemical oxygen. Due to this fact, legislative requirements at a global level have raised restrictive policies over the past ten years.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the USA was created to monitor the situation with food waste, set standards, and controlling the enforcement of policies to secure environmental protection in the country. The EPA issued the Food Waste Management and Recovery Hierarchy, which lists the options of eliminating food waste (Otles et al., 2015). The most preferred approach in the hierarchy is source reduction, which is followed by feeding hungry people, feeding animals, industrial uses, and composting (Otles et al., 2015). The last step in the hierarchy, which is the least preferred one, is landfill, or incineration.
In 2013, the EPA announced the US Food Waste Challenge in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture. The purpose of the challenge was to increase people’s awareness of the problems caused by food waste at different levels (Otles et al., 2015). The Food Waste Challenge consisted of three elements: ‘reduce,’ ‘recover,’ and ‘recycle.’ Each of these elements was recommended for the foodservice industry to apply. The project advised the food industry to reduce the loss and waste of food, recover wholesome products, and recycle the food for other uses, such as composting, generating energy, and feedings animals (Otles et al., 2015). The initiative was expected to eliminate the amount of food wasted and decrease the number of health hazards associated with disposed of products.
Apart from the approaches recommended by the ETA, researchers also emphasize the potential for food waste to be converted into energy. Scholars note that food waste has “a great potential” for producing energy (Pham, Kaushik, Parshetti, Mahmood, & Balasubramanian, 2015, p. 399). Such options as the biological, thermal, and thermochemical conversion of food waste into energy are available. Biological technologies include fermentation and anaerobic digestion (Pham et al., 2015). Thermal and thermochemical technologies involve incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, and hydrothermal oxidation (Pham et al., 2015). Scholars note that by developing research in this direction, it will become possible to eliminate useless waste of food and make it profitable instead.
Food Waste Prevention Practices in the Food Service Industry
While managing the problem is a good idea, preventing it is an even better one. Lefadola, Viljoen, and du Rand (2018) have performed a systematic review of suggested approaches to preventing food waste that could be implemented in the foodservice industry. First of all, it is recommended to introduce a pre-booking system, which would permit cancellation before food preparation. Secondly, researchers note that the use of advanced-demand planning software might decrease food waste to a great extent (Lefadola et al., 2018).
Next, a flexible way of planning a menu could be used, which enables foodservice organizations to use the products with an approaching expiration date first. At the same time, this method would enable saving on excessive ingredients practical use of leftovers. Finally, researchers suggest designing a lean menu, which would make it possible to eliminate the number of options to choose from and, at the same time, simplify the planning of production and decrease food waste. By introducing these changes, food service organizations are likely to prevent massive food waste and loss.
Limitations and Implications
Challenges Facing Food Waste Mitigation
While food waste mitigation approaches are justified by researchers, there are some limitations to their implementation. As Otles et al. (2015) report, microbial activity can increase due to the existence of pathogens and insufficient biological stability. High water content in such products as vegetables and meat can considerably influence transportation costs on waste management. Meanwhile, high-fat products are sensitive to oxidation, which increases their likelihood to spoil (Otles et al., 2015).
Hence, it is necessary to evaluate the cost-efficiency of each food waste management method before implementing it. Salemdeeb, Zu Ermgassen, Kim, Balmford, and Al-Tabbaa (2017) remark that using food waste as animal food is currently illegal due to the potential threats to animals’ health. Meanwhile, Pham et al. (2015) report that utilizing waste food for energy is challenging because of low calorific value and high moisture contents, which lead to the impossibility of creating energy efficiently.
Opportunities for Food Waste Mitigation
Despite some barriers, food waste mitigation is a highly promising area of research and practice. First of all, by eliminating the amount of food waste and food loss, it will be possible to reduce the excessive use of energy spent on the production and transportation of products. Secondly, the damage to the environment will be reduced significantly. Finally, by wasting less food, developed countries could save resources and utilize them to help the developing ones.
The paper has presented an overview of the food waste problem. Food waste is a highly negative social, economic, and environmental problem. The foodservice industry is specifically involved in the question of food waste, which signifies the need for solutions both to manage and prevent the issue. Recycling, reducing, and recycling are the options suggested by the ETA. Also, it is possible to give food waste to animals or turn it into energy. However, these approaches do not have the necessary legal grounds to be implemented so far. More research is necessary to find the most viable solutions to food waste.
Girotto, F., Alibardi, L., & Cossu, R. (2015). Food waste generation and industrial uses: A review. Waste Management, 45, 32–41. Web.
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Heikkilä, L., Reinikainen, A., Katajajuuri, J.-M., Silvennoinen, K., & Hartikainen, H. (2016). Elements affecting food waste in the food service sector. Waste Management, 56, 446–453. Web.
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