"A full belly makes a happy heart": How does food waste affect the environment?

By Gladys Martínez, legal advisor, AIDA

It’s the weekend and we’re at the beach in Costa Rica. The sun is shining, we’re surrounded by nature and listening to the sound of the sea as we enjoy a delicious traditional breakfast of tropical fruit, gallopinto (rice and beans), eggs, home-made tortillas and coffee brewed in a cloth filter. I wish I could say, “And we lived happily ever after". But I can’t. I get upfrom the table to see a heapof leftovers...

The problem of food waste and its impacts

On World Environment Day this past June 5, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) presented alarming data about the impact of food waste on the environment. In the report Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources, the FAO states that food production accounts for:

- 25% of the earth’s surface,  

- 70% of water consumption,

- 80% of deforestation,

- and 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The report notes that producing one liter of milk requires 1,000 liters of water! This means that pouring a glass of milk down the sink is equivalent to dumping 250 liters of water. Throwing out one hamburger is like tossing more than 60,000 liters of water.Photo: A sea of food thrown in the trash. Source: www.ecotumismo.org

In terms of total food wastage, 54% is generated during the production, handling and storage at harvests. The remaining 46% is generated during the processing, distribution and consumption of food. The direct economic cost of food wastage is estimated at more than USD $750 billion annually. This figure seems unthinkable on a planet where one in every seven people go hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of five die from hunger every day.

A lot can done inpidually and as a country

Costa Rica has campaigns aimed at motivating people to consume responsibly and raise awareness about sensible eating to preserve the environment and other people’s right to food. Working together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEp) and the FAO on the campaign Think.Eat.Save, Costa Rican singers Debi Nova, José Cañas (in Spanish) and Manuel Obregón (in Spanish), who doubles as the country’s minister of culture and youth, composed a song against food wastage called “Alimento para el alma” (“Food for the Soul”)

”Food for the Soul" video (in Spanish). Source: YouTube

The Food Bank (Banco de Alimentos) is another Costa Rican initiative. Fourteen private companies have agreed to donate products unfit for sale because of damaged labels or packaging. The social and environmental awareness of these companies has made it possible for 15,169 poor people to receive about two plates of food every day over the past year and a half.

What can I do at home?

Everyone can helpreduce food waste. The campaign Think.Eat.Save offers these helpful tips:

▪ Purchase wisely: Don’t buy more than you need and choose products withless packaging.

▪ Better planning: Cook what you can eat and freeze the leftovers to eat later.

▪ Support distributors of organic and “wonky” fruits and vegetables. Eating organic food has a minimal impact on your health and the environment, and misshapen fruits and vegetables still taste delicious even if they do not look perfect.

▪ Read food labels carefully so as not to throw away perfectly good food. Nine out of 10 people throw out food because they don’t understand what the labels mean.Did you know that if you put an egg in a bowl of water and it floats, that means the egg is bad? If it sinks, it’s still edible. Find out more at FixFoodDates.com

▪ Reduce your food waste and compost what you don’t eat. You can find more useful advice at thinkeatsave.org.

Bon appétit!

About the Author

Gladys Martínez


Gladys Martínez is our senior attorney for the Marine Biodiversity and Coastal Protection Program, working out of AIDA’s offices in San Jose, Costa Rica. She has helped bring AIDA victories from protecting endangered turtles and coastal areas through litigation and the development of environmentally sustainable policies. Gladys received her law degree from the Universidad de Costa Rica, and holds a master’s degree in Environment, Security and Peace from the United Nations University-UPEACE. 

Any opinions expressed in this blog are the authors’ own and may not be shared by the organization. AIDA includes them with full respect for the freedom of expression and plurality of our team of professionals.

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