All About Green

The Environmental Issue of Potato Chips

Originally published in Green Country, Issue 118 (Feb 2016)
Author: Green Power

A packet of potato chips

As the name indicates, potato chips are made from potatoes. However, they involve far more than simply the items we put into our mouths. The industrialisation of food production leads to huge waste by throwing away not only the rotten ones but those not matching production standards.

In producing potato chips, for example, the first selection begins in the farm, where those not fitting the appearance and other quality standards, such as over-sized, under-sized or in unusual shapes, are all put away. Another round of selection occurs at the potato chips production factory. Here those damaged during transport and packaging, or rotten and mouldy due to improper storage, are taken out. Even a perfectly good potato will not be completely turned into potato chips. There is waste such as the peel and parts that are cut away.

Enormous quantities of food parts are lost in food supply chains. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, each year some 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted in the process of production and consumption, which amounts to one-third of total food production worldwide. Around half of the lost foods come from production process. The resulting environmental problems arise should not be taken lightly. It is estimated that the production of these lost foods consumes 250 cubic kilometres of water and 1.4 billion hectares of land, which are equivalent to 892 times the capacity of the High Island Reservoir and over 12,000 times the area of Hong Kong, respectively. Carbon emissions add up to 3.3 billion tonnes – just behind China, the United States and the whole European Union.

Governments from all around the world are working on various ways of reducing food waste in the production process, including helping factories to improve storage and transport, and enhancing facilities to better protect and preserve raw food materials. In addition, different factories are encouraged to exchange or trade the usable parts. Markets are also explored for the not-so-good-looking raw materials. As for consumers, we can start from our daily life to reduce food waste. A simple act such as estimating what portions we need before buying and having a meal can minimise our contributions to food waste!