Skip to main content
An aerial image of field of green crops with two people inspecting the crop.

This waste amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of food, enough to feed 2 billion people. But our potato peels, apple cores, and bread crusts offer fantastic potential to enhance sustainability. COP28’s day of Food, Agriculture and Water, on 10 December, offers the perfect opportunity to redefine how we deal with unwanted food.

Food waste has a profoundly negative impact on our environment, finite natural resources, and even our economic well-being. Before landing in our trash bins, those discarded potato peels have a backstory. They were grown on a farm, using water, fertiliser, and land. They were harvested, packaged, and transported – all consuming energy.

When food waste is sent to landfills, it decomposes anaerobically, producing methane – a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States, according to the UN Environment Programme. When food peelings are discarded, it contributes to this alarming problem. People overlook the potential to reduce the demand for new agricultural production and the associated environmental costs.

One innovative frontier in the battle against food waste is the bioconversion of food waste into bioethanol, a renewable and eco-friendly fuel capable of changing the energy industry. According to a recent study, very impressive yields of bioethanol were achieved, almost up to 95% of the theoretical maximum in value accomplished with minimal energy input and an impressively low ecological footprint.

Valuing every bit of food can be our contribution to the circular economy by turning peelings into potential and scraps into sustainability. Let us transform our kitchens into laboratories of sustainability, where food peelings become opportunities for creativity, conservation, and change.

Dr Helen Onyeaka, Associate Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering

The economic implications of food waste are equally staggering. Wasted food means wasted money – for consumers, retailers, and the entire supply chain. The monetary value of one third of food wasted globally was estimated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation to be about USD 936 billion. In an era of rising food prices and economic uncertainty for many families, ensuring every edible morsel is used can also translate to significant savings.

Furthermore, agricultural production wastes resources, including water, fertilizer, and labor. This, in turn increases production costs and food prices. Businesses in the retail and food industry also suffer losses as unsold or discarded food translates into lost revenue. Along the supply chain, food waste generates additional costs related to transportation, storage, and disposal.

Food waste is also fundamentally unjust when you consider about 10% of the global population is undernourished, according to UN figures.

But in the problem, lies the potential. If approached with innovation and commitment, our food waste can be transformed into a treasure trove of opportunities.

We can turn organic waste into nutrient-rich compost which can rejuvenate soils, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and promoting healthy plant growth. Localized composting initiatives can support urban gardening and agriculture, fostering community resilience and food security.

Decomposing food waste can be used as a source of methane for biogas, which is a sustainable energy source that can be used for cooking, heating, and powering vehicles.

Many food scraps unsuitable for human consumption can be processed into nutritious animal feed, reducing the reliance on resource-intensive grains.

Innovation is key. Businesses are harnessing food waste to produce everything from sustainable packaging to edible spoons. By integrating waste into product life cycles, we edge closer to a circular economy that values resources and eliminates the concept of 'waste'.

The culinary world also has a role to play as it utilises overlooked ingredients such as 'ugly' fruit and would-be-wasted items that restaurants are crafting gourmet dishes from.

It's time to recognize the potential in our kitchens, rethink our wasteful habits, and act on this knowledge. Maybe we shouldn’t label it as "waste" but "edible excess." Valuing every bit of food can be our contribution to the circular economy by turning peelings into potential and scraps into sustainability.

Let us transform our kitchens into laboratories of sustainability, where food peelings become opportunities for creativity, conservation, and change.