Building Materials from Food Waste

The old cliché is that you shouldn’t waste your food because hungry people in some far-off country would love to have it. Turns out those far-off countries have food-wasting problems of their own. Even in the developing world, up to half of the food grown or produced never actually feeds anyone.

NPR recently spoke with John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer at United Technologies Building & Industrial Systems and coauthor of the book Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change (a light and refreshing read, it sounds like). He stressed that even though food waste is getting plenty of press in places like the U.S., the issue truly is a global problem. In fact, in many ways, developing nations face their own unique set of challenges.

“Often in developing countries, food decays in fields or farms before harvest or else spoils while it's being transported,” he told NPR in an interview. “Being able to keep fresh food chilled during storage and transport would make a huge difference, but many places do not yet have the technology, infrastructure or the money to set up a sophisticated ‘cold chain’—the network of refrigerated trucks and storage facilities you need to bring fresh food from the farm to the market.” The impact of working to fix this problem could be huge, he says: “If developing countries had the same level of refrigeration for the transportation and storage of food as developed countries, approximately one-quarter of food loss would be avoided.”

Lack of technology and resources was a recurring theme from Mandyck. He also cited examples like Kenyans who didn’t have the best equipment for transporting tomatoes and Afghans who were able to dramatically reduce food losses simply by getting access to grain silos.

The revelations are eye-opening in a world where more than 800 million people are chronically hungry, especially when you realize how much wasted food isn’t that far from the people who need it.