On the 25th of January 2020, Malaysia recorded its first COVID-19 case. This pandemic began in other parts of the world in 2019. Though we have begun moving towards getting over the severity of the virus itself, the occurrence of this pandemic has continued to shape the world in various ways.
All these years later, Covid-19 continues to deeply impact nearly every aspect of our lives. One area that experienced significant disruption during the pandemic was the global food system. As lockdowns and restrictions were implemented to curb the spread of the virus, the way we produced, distributed, consumed, and wasted food changed forever.
In this article, we will explore how COVID-19 has affected food waste even all these years later.
Food Waste Before Covid-19
Before delving into the pandemic's impact on it, we first need to understand the state of food waste pre-COVID-19. Food waste was already a global concern, with roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption ending up in landfills or lost along the supply chain.
The economic cost of food waste was staggering, with billions of dollars lost annually by consumers, businesses, and governments while it was also contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation, and overuse of water resources. These issues exacerbated climate change and resource depletion.
The worst part of food waste pre-covid was that ironically, while food was being wasted, millions of people around the world were also facing food insecurity and hunger.
How COVID-19 Changed Everything
Supply Chain Disruptions
The pandemic disrupted supply chains on a global scale. Lockdowns and travel restrictions led to labour shortages, logistic challenges, and delays in food production and distribution. As a result, farmers had to destroy crops, and producers discarded perishable goods due to the lack of demand.
With restaurants, cafes, and catering services closing or operating at limited capacity, the hospitality sector faced severe losses. This resulted in a surplus of perishable items and ingredients.
Fearing potential shortages, consumers stockpiled non-perishable food items, leading to panic buying and hoarding. This mass decision severely strained supply chains and left some essential items unavailable to others.
Food Service + Donations
Institutions such as schools, universities, and corporate cafeterias either closed or scaled down operations. This shift left a surplus of food that would have otherwise been consumed. The pandemic also made it difficult for food rescue organizations to operate, leading to a reduction in the number of rescued surplus food items.
Increased Household Food Waste
With more people cooking at home, there was a surge in household food waste. Consumers often overbought perishable items or let them spoil due to changes in routines.
Innovation in Food Redistribution
Some organizations and apps developed innovative ways to connect surplus food from businesses with those in need. This included repurposing surplus restaurant food for donation.
Keep an eye on our articles in the following weeks as we will be discussing Food Redistribution!
Local communities and grassroots organizations stepped up to provide food assistance and address food insecurity issues, highlighting the importance of community-driven efforts.
The pandemic has undoubtedly surfaced the importance of reducing food waste. This has led to an increase in public awareness and has also piqued the public's interest in food sustainability.
All in all, COVID-19 has reshaped the landscape of food waste in ways that were both challenging and enlightening. It exposed vulnerabilities in our global food system and highlighted the need for a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable approach to food production and distribution. While the pandemic increased food waste in some sectors, it also catalyzed innovation, community engagement, and public awareness surrounding this critical issue.
It will take a long time to create massive waves of change, but every step we take today counts. Join us in reducing household food waste by composting today.
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