India eats less, wastes more: Food waste as a rising issue


Food waste in India is a rising menace despite the foodgrains being revered in India as god’s grace and several Indian suffering from malnutrition despite sufficient food supply.

Food is revered in traditional Indian wisdom as nectar, and wasting it is viewed as a sin. However, I notice a significant amount of food waste being dumped from numerous food stalls whenever I am walking on the streets.

Not only food stalls but big restaurants, and hotels. Every event is significant in India, especially weddings. The bigger the wedding party, the more extravagant the food waste. Without a doubt, weddings and banquets waste a lot of food, which causes restaurants and hotels to waste food as well. Additionally, supermarkets, apartment buildings, airline cafeterias, and businesses are involved in generating food waste equally.

In the meantime, the effects of poverty have left some areas of India with children who are famished and have no access to food. The number of malnourished children worldwide, particularly in India, is alarmingly high.

Over 190 million Indians remain undernourished, while India’s food waste worths over INR 92,000 crores.

The UN estimates that over 190 million Indians remain undernourished despite a substantial food supply. Further estimates place the annual cost of food waste in India at over INR 92,000 crores. According to the Food Waste Index Report 2021, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) the previous year, an estimated 931 million tonnes of food, or 17% of the total food available to consumers in 2019 globally, ended up in households, retailers, restaurants, and other food services’ waste bins.

The combined weight of India’s 2019–20 production of food grains, oilseeds, sugarcane, and horticulture produce is roughly equivalent to the weight of the world’s food waste. These are very depressing numbers, but they should make it clear how serious the issue of food waste and inequality is in India.

Food that is eventually wasted is produced using 300 million barrels of oil.

Despite the fact that there are many people who go hungry every year in the world, 931 million tonnes of food were wasted globally in 2019. Tonnes of food are wasted every year in India as well, where millions of people live in poverty. Around 1.3–1.4 billion tonnes of food intended for human use are lost each year, with 275 million tonnes being accounted for in South and Southeast Asia, which includes developing nations like India and China.

India ranked 101st out of 116 nations in 2021 Global Hunger Index.

According to a survey by the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) journal, “Indians squander as much food as the entire United Kingdom consumes,” and as a result, millions of its 1.3 billion people go to bed hungry. In the 2021 Global Hunger Index, India is ranked 101st out of 116 nations which is highly disappointing. In India, 90 kg of food waste per capita per year was recorded in the high-income group, which was 68, and 63 in the middle- and low-income categories, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Food Waste Index Report 2021.

In a study, the characterization of domestic food waste from India revealed that it included 89% total solids, 85% moisture content, and a C/N ratio of 36.4 which was comparable to other South Asian nations. It also contained 89% of total solids.

24% of global food waste occurs in production stage, 24% during handling and storage, and 35% at the consumption stage.

Food waste

Why food wastage is a real issue in India?

There are many reasons behind this issue being one of the most real and important issues in India. The reasons for this growing issue include:

Impact of food wastage on the economy: Food wastage in India is estimated to be worth approximately INR 92,000 crore annually at wholesale prices for the country’s key agricultural products. About 24% of all food loss and waste worldwide occurs in the production stage of the food supply chain, 24% occurs during handling and storage, and 35% occurs at the consumption stage.

Impact of food wastage on the environment: The repercussions of food waste on the ecosystem are permanent. Due to the fact that food waste management is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions In addition to wasting food, we also waste the water and energy used to make it and emit greenhouse gases that destroy the ozone layer and cause global warming. These gases include methane, carbon dioxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, which account for 7% of global emissions.

Food waste in landfills creates nitrogen, which depletes soil nutrients and turns areas into “dead zones.” The majority of the heat in the environment is trapped by methane, which is released during the decomposition of food waste and lingers out in the atmosphere for 20 years. As a result, climate change occurs. Acres of land is deforested to grow food. Food that is eventually wasted is produced using 300 million barrels of oil.

To deal with these emerging issues there are a few solutions that can be taken into consideration in order to tackle these issues. We also require public awareness efforts on the issue from the government and from civil society organizations.

Food waste

Few solutions for food waste management in India we can really think of are the followings:

Use of food waste: From biofuels to liquid fertilizer, there are many useful products that can be manufactured from waste food. Occasionally, “leftovers” from one company can be useful in another company for food scrap. Composting is a form of recycling, and food producers can completely eliminate their waste problems by putting up a sound composting plan. And by doing this, you not only reduce waste but also save money because you are not forced to “outsource” the manufacturing of your compost.

Food donation and source reduction: The simplest way to reduce waste is to produce less anytime it is obvious that production is producing waste. There will be hungry and poor individuals who realize it is difficult to acquire adequate food in today’s expensive economy once extra food items are still safe to eat.

Fixing the supply chain: Fixing this issue is the obvious first step in addressing India’s food crisis because despite being one of the world’s top producers of wheat, a significant amount of food is lost because it spoils before it can reach markets and consumers. To this extent, cooperation between government and private members is required, especially between those who handle raw materials, as this can help to reduce inefficiency, loss, and waste.

Role of Technology in preventing food waste: To tackle this problem, it is essential that technology be used at every step of the supply chain. For instance, the transportation of perishable items like fruits, vegetables, and processed food has been transformed by the development of ingenious reefer-container technology. These refrigerated containers allow agricultural producers to efficiently ship a wide range of products, from grapes to shrimp, across geographical boundaries while keeping food fresh for longer than a month.

Few government initiatives: The Indian government has pledged INR 3,100 crore to 101 new integrated cold chain projects in recognition of the need to reduce food loss. 2019 saw the start of the construction of multi-commodity cold storage chambers for horticulture produce in significant districts by the Chhattisgarh state government. In order to prevent damage to perishable goods including fruits, vegetables, and flowers, a post-harvest management programme was launched, creating a network of packing houses and cold storage facilities around the state. The food waste management sector should benefit from these measures.

According to TOI’s (Times of India) article, Sudesh Poddar, who is the secretary of the Hotel and Restaurants Association of Eastern India, said that to reduce waste, they don’t start cooking until a consumer placed an order. They don’t recycle their food either. Despite all of this, they nevertheless make sure that no food is wasted at our restaurants by sharing any extra with the workers.

Again in Warangal, according to one of the TBI’s (The Better India) articles, Kedari Food Court fines customers INR 40 for even the smallest amount of food squandered. The punishment for defying it is only increased by INR 100, and it eventually rises to INR 500. Food waste occurs in small amounts as a result of the owner Lingala Kedari’s severe penalty system.

What we can do as individuals

Make a grocery list and a menu plan to figure out what you truly need for the week. In urban India, about 20% of everything we purchase is thrown away.

  • Purchase only what you can actually utilize. Avoid making impulsive purchases.
  • If you cook at home, be sure to cook with an eye toward moderation. As an alternative to storing extra food in the refrigerator, you can always round out your meals with a few fruits. It is also a far better and healthier practice.
  • Even spoiled food should be composted.
  • Ask your office about how they handle leftover food if you work somewhere with a canteen. Cooked food needs to be managed more effectively and quickly, especially given its short shelf life. Consult NGOs that promise to deliver extra food to the hungry.
  • Make sure you arrange for the food to be delivered to a location like an orphanage or an elderly shelter if you organise a family gathering at your home, in a wedding venue, or at a hotel.
  • Develop the habit of finishing your meal. Try to spread it to as many people as you can.

Early awareness regarding our responsibility to reduce food waste is essential for transforming how our society addresses hunger and food scarcity. Therefore, everyone must work together if we are to create a really sustainable India where millions of people are not undernourished despite sufficient food supply.

Also Read: Sustainable tourism: Why is it important?

(Purbasha Palit is a student of Journalism and Mass Communication from Amity University.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


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