Throwing vegetables in the trash has a very high environmental cost and a group of researchers from the “Ramón Margalef” Multidisciplinary Institute for the Study of the Environment of the University of Alicante has just quantified it in an article published yesterday in the scientific journal Nature Food. Despite the fact that this practice is common, legal, and is even subsidized by the European Union, getting rid of products such as tomatoes, zucchini or cucumbers entails great losses of water, fertilizers and energy. As explained Jaime Martínez Valderrama, main author of the article and researcher of the UA, “In 2019, only in the province of Almería, 300,000 cubic meters of water and more than 136 tons of fertilizers were wasted, in addition to the fact that the emission of 7,500 tons of CO2 equivalent could have been avoided.”
The study focuses on Almería for being the “garden of Europe” despite being also the most arid area. In this province, in the last 40 years, there has been an unprecedented agricultural development that places it at the head of the national economies. “This economic growth has a very high environmental cost in a place where the aquifers have been salinized,” warns the UA researcher. “We decided to analyze the province of Almería in detail because in a place that boasts of taking advantage of every last drop of water, and given the context of water scarcity it presents, it is grotesque to get rid of the harvest,” he adds.
The authors consider it “grotesque” to throw the harvest away with 800 million people starving
The study reveals the amount of resources that are wasted to produce food that does not even enter the commercial circuit and ends up in the garbage. «It is important to clarify that not all these vegetables go to waste. A relevant part goes to food banks or serves as food for livestock “, highlights the main author.
The discarded harvest data for all of Spain provided by the Spanish Agricultural Guarantee Fund is about 114,000 tons, including all types of crops, among which citrus fruits stand out. In other words, Almería only represents 10%. Furthermore, in Spain, a good part of the withdrawn harvest goes to food banks, some 78,000 tons and about 12,000 tons are thrown away, ”explains Martínez.
The research is part of Biodesert project who leads Fernando Maestre Gil, the Sax researcher recently awarded the Jaume I Prize in the Environmental Protection category. On the waste of food and the depletion of resources, Maestre says that «it is a really important issue both from the environmental point of view, due to the consumption of water and the emission of greenhouse gases, and from the ethical point of view, economic and social in a world where there are more than 800 million people who are hungry.
Irrigation control and a fair price as solutions
The team of experts from Ramón Margalef Institute of the University of Alicante raises a series of solutions to minimize the environmental cost of throwing away basic foods such as vegetables every day. Among them they point to the regulation of the market, the containment of the irrigated area and the price of the products. “If the laws regulating the use of water were complied with, farmers charged a fairer price for their products and the large distributors did not reap most of the benefits, it would probably not be necessary to dispose of the merchandise – something that is done to Precisely prevent prices from falling – in such a non-environmental and ethically unsustainable way. This is what Martínez Valderrama indicates in the conclusions of the study.
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