We sure do love eating our food! But what happens to our leftovers?
Food waste in Australia and around the world is still a major issue. More than 800,000 tonnes of food is thrown away by NSW households each year according to research from the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This certainly isn’t a figure to be proud of. Although Australia isn’t the worst for food waste per capita, it is still 15th in the world for absolute greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.
This graph from the FAO (2013) highlights the greenhouse gas generation from food waste in the top 20 countries.
Australia is ranked 52nd in the world in population size. In terms of each country’s waste per capita compared to one another, it is a completely different story. France, for example has three time the population of Australia, yet it produces the same amount of greenhouse gasses from food waste as Australia.
Comparisons of Australia’s food waste with other continents per capita can be seen in the graph below.
Food waste researcher, sustainability consultant and possible passenger to Mars, Dianne McGrath, told The Newsroom the reason for this is, “Australia is a very affluent society, although there is still food insecurity experienced by over 1.8 million people annually, the majority of the population has not only money, but the choices that such affluence provides. This often leads to excess and wastage.”
The thought of Australia’s food waste comes into our minds again after French Councillor Arash Derambarsh noticed the issue of food waste in France. He decided that something had to be done about it. He proposed a legislation against food waste and received more than 200,000 signatures in just four months.
The legislation forbids supermarkets from destroying or discarding unsold food, and requires them to donate their unwanted food to charities. Non-compliance could see fines of up to 75,000 Euros, or up to 2 years in prison. Now Mr Derambarsh wants this legislation to become a global thing, but could it really work?
Although we applaud and commend Mr Derambarsh on his efforts and the fact that this is a huge step towards environmental sustainability and less food wastage, this is just one way of helping. While this legislation could be a major benefit to food waste on a global level, this legislation actually overlooks the already purchased foods that will go to waste later in people’s homes and in businesses.
“There is debate in other countries whether this is government intervention going to far. Yet at the same time, around the world we constantly see rubbish bins half full of food – at home, and behind restaurants and supermarkets. Alongside this are the millions of people who are hungry. It seems a mystifying inequity to not allow the hungry access to food that is no longer wanted or able to be sold,” said Ms McGrath.
“Also in developed nations where affluence, choice and market failure is driving food waste to be a significant part of the waste stream, such regulatory action may have merit. While in a number of other countries, the supermarket legislation would not be as effective in reducing food waste as implementing better agricultural production, transport and storage systems.”
Food waste is generated differently in different parts of the world. According to FAO 2011, in developing nations the greatest food losses occur at the paddock to retail end; whereas in developed nations, the retail to the consumer end of the food system generates the greater proportion of food waste.
There are opportunities in many countries to redistribute still consumable food from supermarkets to charities that feed hungry people. Australian organisations exist such as OzHarvest, SecondBite, FareShare and Foodbank who operate important food rescue programs like this. Yet so very few supermarkets or other food businesses participate through donating food; this subsequently means that charities are forced to find funding to ensure they can feed the communities of people they support.
Small businesses can also take up their own initiatives to reduce their waste, even by a small amount. An anonymous Sydney sushi restaurant told The Newsroom, how on quiet nights if they have excessive leftovers, they would package and share their leftovers with the staff of still open restaurants and cafes.
Not to mention the little tips and tricks that individuals can do at home to reduce their own waste and save money while doing it. Research from EPA shows the reasons why we commonly waste food in our homes.
Ms McGrath said, “With the current population growth coupled with the changing diet of developing nations, food waste will become an increasing problem. We will unnecessarily deplete a significant amount of the natural resources used to grow, transport, manufacture, store and cook food – water, quality topsoil, energy, nutrients and fertiliser.
“Food waste will become an increasingly major contributor to our climate problems. All while more people will go hungry who could have had access to healthy, still-consumable food.” – Isabel Williams
Top photo from U.S. Departments of Agriculture Flickr Photostream.