Every year, more than one-third of the food produced globally goes to waste, and this has a significant impact on the environment. Food waste that ends up in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. When food waste (and its packaging) ends up in the ocean, it has further damaging effects. One major contributor to the issue is the dumping of wasted fishery products. Astonishingly, it is estimated that over 7 billion tons of it is discarded into the ocean annually. Additionally, plastic items from takeaway food and drink are dominating our oceans, and can take up to 450 years to decompose. A study has revealed that these plastic items account for a substantial portion of marine debris, making it clear that our fast food habits and inadequate waste management practices are amplifying the pollution crisis. Urgent action is needed to address this problem and implement sustainable practices to mitigate food waste and plastic pollution in our oceans.
In this blog, in honour of World Oceans Day, we will highlight how food waste affects the ocean and what we can do as a collective to reduce this impact.
How Does Food Waste Affect The Ocean?
1) Global Warming
Food waste releases methane gas when it decomposes, which is 87 times worse than carbon dioxide. This contributes to global warming and affects sea surface temperatures, causing a ripple effect that harms marine ecosystems in various ways, such as changing nutrient supply, disrupting migration patterns, and harming sensitive ecosystems like coral.
2) Depleted Oxygen Levels
When organic matter like food waste decomposes in the ocean, it uses up oxygen in the water. This can ‘create dead zones’ in the sea, where oxygen levels are so low that most marine life can’t survive.
3) Harmful Algal Blooms
When food waste is dumped into the ocean, it provides nutrients that can cause algal blooms. These blooms can be harmful to marine life and people who swim in the affected waters. Harmful algal blooms can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, and even death in severe cases.
4) Chemical Pollution
When food treated with pesticides, hormones, and other chemicals ends up in the ocean, the pollution caused can have long lasting effects on marine ecosystems. When marine life consumes the food waste, the harmful chemicals accumulate as they move up the food chain. Ultimately, this additionally affects humans who rely on fish as a food source, as the concentration of toxins can become dangerously high.
5) Plastic Pollution
Plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to latest studies. The plastic does not break down into harmless molecules but instead turns into microplastics that take thousands of years to decompose. These microplastics are consumed by plankton and other small fish, negatively impacting their health, growth, and reproduction. Ultimately this affects the populations that form the base of the marine food chain. What’s more is that us humans who eat fish, are often in turn consuming the microplastics too. Furthermore, plastic packaging and other non-biodegradable materials in food waste can often be mistaken for food by marine animals, leading to ingestion and entanglement. This can cause physical harm, stress, and sometimes death in the affected animals.
What Can We Do to Reduce Food Waste in the Ocean?
According to the UNEP, 61% of global food waste occurs at the household level. Therefore, improving our global food waste issue can start in your very own home. Here are some steps you can take to reduce food waste and help to protect the health of our oceans:
1) Buy Only What You Need
One of the simplest ways to reduce food waste is to buy only what you need. Plan meals and make a shopping list to avoid buying excess food that may go to waste.
2) Store Food Properly
Properly storing food can help prevent spoilage and waste. Store leftover cooked food in airtight containers and use a reusable cotton produce bag. Veggie Saver is scientifically proven to keep your produce fresh for 2 weeks or more. (It’s plastic free and compostable!)
3) Compost Food Scraps
Composting food scraps is an excellent way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for gardening. A win-win! If you don’t have a garden at home, consider using a composting service or finding a community composting site.
Read more of our tips to reduce food waste here.
By taking steps to reduce food waste and support organisations fighting food waste, we can help protect the health of our oceans and the planet. So let’s take action on this World Oceans Day and every day to reduce food waste and protect our oceans.