Moves to combat the world's colossal food waste problem now appear to be gathering pace. Here at EcoBin, we believe that schools and workplaces will soon be working as hard to reduce food waste as they do to divert other materials from landfill to recycling. In this the first of a two part series on reducing food waste at work at school we look at some important recent developments, some mind blowing statistics and some of the challenges involved around food waste. It’s hard not to notice the growing number of food waste related stories we’ve been seeing in the media of late. In January, onlookers from around the world applauded as a French law came into force, compelling supermarkets to donate unsold food to those in need, for animal fodder or composting. In the wake of the Davos Economic Forum 2016, we also heard that Unilever, Nestle, UK supermarket Tesco and the Rockefeller Foundation have joined a group committed to delivering on UN Sustainable Development Goal Number 12.3 - to halve food waste by 2030. There’s been a flurry activity aimed at eliminating food waste among regional and local governments, too. For example here in Australia, Sustainability Victoria and EPA NSW have both recently introduced grant schemes to promote on site food waste composting. The aim here is to reducing the amount of food waste going to landfill.
Food waste in numbersThe scale on which we humans waste food is tragic and staggering. Around one third of all food produced on this earth goes to waste. More than enough to feed the 800 million people on the planet who don’t have enough to eat. Enough, in fact, to feed them two and a half times over. According to a UN Report, global greenhouse gas emissions from producing and transporting food we ultimately waste, amounts to 3.3 billion tonnes. That’s about the same as the annual combined emissions of all 28 member countries of the European Union. According to the same report, water consumed in producing that same wasted food amounts to the annual flow of the Volga, Europe’s greatest river. 25% of the USA’s entire freshwater supply goes into growing food that is ultimately wasted. Here in Australia, the figures are on a par with the rest of the developed world. In monetary terms we throw away around 3 million tonnes, worth $10 billion per year. Recently, the City of Stonnington, a fairly typical Australian suburb in Melbourne, estimated that 50% of the average household garbage bin comprises food waste!
How do we manage to waste so much food?Waste takes place at every stage the food’s journey to our plates and beyond. Of food grown in developing countries, fluctuating market demand and logistical constraints prevent a large portion of it ever leaving the farm. Inadequate transport and storage facilities are major factors here. In developed countries, supermarkets and consumers bear responsibility for the bulk of our food waste thanks to common practices of overstocking, over-buying and over-serving. Restaurants and cafes also throw vast quantities of food away at the close of business each day. Some goes to waste because no one bought it, some because of over-sized portions. Other contributing factors are :
- Rigid grading policies of retailers and food processors. These policies reject fruits and vegetables for being the wrong size, shape, for having blemishes, or improper packaging and labelling.
- Fishing quotas which lead fishing vessels to discard fish that can’t be sold at a best price or which exceed quotas.
- Varying crop sizes and unpredictable market demand, which can often result in unsaleable surpluses.
- Misleading, overly pessimistic expiry dates on food packaging.