The world wastes around 1.6 billion tons of food each year. Unsurprisingly this has far-reaching consequences, with the serious human and environmental effects being well known. What is less often considered is how this waste stream may impact on wildlife.
A number of recent studies have documented how food waste generated by humans is changing ecosystems around the world.
Food waste contributes to the decline of some species by supporting opportunistic predators, and thereby artificially increasing their number. Researchers in the Mediterranean region have shown that some types of endangered seabirds are threatened by an increasing gull population, subsidised by local landfill garbage and fishery discards.
Conversely though, food waste can be a lifeline for other endangered animals. Access to food waste is thought to be a major factor in the growing number of wolves and brown bears that are living in Europe.
Some people may then argue that though food waste has an impact on wildlife, it is not really a problem. And indeed animals have fed on human leftovers for millennia.
However, the modern level of food waste is unprecedented in human history, with an estimated one third of food going to waste globally. This allows uncompetitive animals and species to prosper even though they would have been weeded out through natural selection.
Food waste is yet another example of how human behaviour is altering the earth’s natural balance. Another reason then to think again about the way we manage food and food waste.