Food + Packaging Waste

Food Waste Fiasco.

The environmental and social impacts of food waste have largely been under-reported and undervalued as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve natural resources and address global hunger. According to a groundbreaking report, Food Wastage Footprint 2013, published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an estimated 30% or all food produced for human consumption never makes it to our plates. This not only represents a colossal waste of food, to the tune of 1.3 billion tonnes globally or almost $1 trillion dollars in retail value, but is also a waste of all the resources that go into growing the food – farmer time, fertiliser, nutrients, water, transportation, storage, animals’ lives, the list goes on…

‘If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China.’ FAO, Food Wastage Footprint report, 2013

Food Waste Infographic

ALL ABOUT FOOD WASTE

Why is food wasted?

In wealthier countries much of the wasted food comes from consumers buying too much and throwing out what they don’t use, whereas in developing countries it predominately occurs on farm or as a result of poor refrigeration during transportation and storage.

Each year Australian households generate around 345kg of food waste, putting Australia amongst the top generating countries of household waste in the world. A National Waste Report in 2010 estimated that Australians throw out 4 million tonnes of food each year; enough to fill 450,000 garbage trucks. [2]

The biggest wasters of food in Australia, on the consumer level, are “young people, households with incomes more than $100,000 a year and families with children”.[3] A significant amount of waste is also generated from the hospitality sector. A survey of restaurants found that 65% of food waste was lost during preparation, while 30% was the result of the customers leaving food on their plate, and only 5% was due to food spoilage.[4] To address this issue it is becoming commonplace to use “portioning” and freezing in an effort to reduce waste production, however the losses at this level are still significant.[5]

The environmental impacts of food waste

‘If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China.’ FAO, Food Wastage Footprint report, 2013

The sheer volume of food that is thrown out globally represents a criminal waste of the natural and on-farm resources that went into growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, packaging and distributing it.

It also wastes the primary nutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) – that sustain all advanced farming systems worldwide. In food production there is no substitute for these three nutrients: they are as essential to plant growth as water and light.[6] So when food gets sent to landfill we are losing the cycle of nutrients that sustain all life on earth. Composting avoids this waste as nutrients re-enter the food system in the form of nutrient-dense soil.

It is estimated that in Australia only 10% of food waste is actually composted, which means that the other 90% ends up in landfill.[7] The average household bin in Australia contains up to 40% food waste.[8]

When food is thrown out and breaks down in the oxygen-starved environment of landfill it generates methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Composting prevents this sort of pollution. For every tonne of food waste not sent to landfill, almost one tonne of CO2 emissions is saved.

In accordance with the NSW Government Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy, if households reduced their household waste by 66 percent, the greenhouse gas savings would be equivalent to taking 117,000 cars permanently off of the road in NSW alone.[9]

In addition, the water footprint for total food wasted globally is about 250 km3, which represents almost three times the volume of Lake Geneva, or the annual water discharge of the Volga River – Europe’s largest river.[10]

The total amount of land used to grow the global harvest of wasted food occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares, equal to about 28% of the world’s agricultural land area.[11]

Impact of our quest for perfect produce

A significant portion of food loss occurs during farming and production. This can be the result of various factors from weather to cost of production. In the report, Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Waste in Australia, it suggests farmers may choose not to harvest a crop in a given year because the costs of harvesting and transporting the crop will outweigh earnings.[12]

Furthermore, a Queensland Government report estimated that between 15 to 50 percent of banana production which made it to the packing sheds were “rejected” because they didn’t meet supermarket standards. Those bananas became landfill or were returned back into the ground.[13]

There have been some super creative and heartening campaigns and policies introduced in recent years to tackle consumer and retailer perception around perfect produce, and we hope this continues. It would be wonderful to see a day when ‘imperfect’ produce wasn’t discounted but instead accepted as delicious and nutritious despite being a little wonky.

Food security + population growth

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations says “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.[14]

Food security can be addressed on an immediate level by all Australians reducing food waste. Australians throw $8 billion dollars worth of food each year and yet 2 million people rely on food relief.[15]

Globally 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, and yet in excess of 870 million people remain under-nourished, without proper and sustained access to food. [16]

Naysan Sahba, Director of Communications of UNEP said, “In the next few years, food consumption is expected to increase by around 30 per cent due to population growth, while the effects of climate change are expected to reduce agricultural yields by up to five percent in some areas. We do know, however, that cutting the rate of food loss and waste in half by 2050 would close 20 percent of this food gap.”[17]

Addressing food waste is vital in ensuring continued food security as our global population approaches 10 billion by 2050.

Organisations we love that are tackling food waste

WHAT YOU CAN DO

While there’s no doubt that systemic change is needed to curb food waste, we play a vital role in driving that change, and it all starts in the home.

Set up a compost bin at home
Setting up a compost bin means that any food that does end up being wasted can be recycled in the form of nutrient rich soil for growing vegies at home. See our blog features on composting for more information:
Our practical guide to composting
How to compost
All hail the compost bin
Get creative with leftovers
No one wants to eat the same meal three nights in a row. Purchase our Clever Cook eBook for creative ways to get the most out of your meals
Plan your meals and change the way you shop. Head to your local farmers’ market and bulk food store to reduce packaging waste and only buy what you know you’ll get through. And remember, don’t get sucked into 2-for-1 deals if you really only need one! See our Where to Shop section for more ideas.
Learn to use parts of fruit and veg that you’d normally throw away. Check out our Downloadable Resources section for a handy guide showing you what you can do with carrot tops, cauliflower leaves and much more! Learn how to store fresh produce so that it lasts. Check out our Downloadable Resources section for a handy guide with tips on how to best store your fresh produce. Don’t be deterred by best before dates. Often the old sniff, sight or tiny-taste test will indicate if it’s really off. To learn more about the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates, visit our blog post on the topic.

Remember: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle… in that order!

References

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