What a waste!

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, about 1.3 billion tons per year, enough to feed 870 million undernourished people. This also means that huge amounts of the resources used to produce food are used in vain, and that greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production of food that gets lost or wasted, are also emissions in vain.

The waste occurs throughout the supply and distribution chain, from initial agricultural production through to perishable goods that spoil without ever leaving the supermarket and final household consumption.

Overall, on a per-capita basis, much more food is wasted in the industrialised world than in developing countries. The FAO estimates that the per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North America is 95-115 kg/year, while in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia this figure is only 6-11 kg/year.

In Australia, The National Waste Report 2010 estimates that Australians throw out 4 million tonnes of food a year, enough to fill 450,000 garbage trucks. Additionally, Australian businesses (supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, etc) throw away over a million tonnes of food per year. About 40% of produce is lost before it even leaves the farm because it does not meet Australia’s high quality standards.

Research by the NSW Government showed that the average NSW household was throwing out $1036 of edible food every year. When this sum is extrapolated across every household in Australia then we’re spending $8 billion a year on food that we buy but throw away. However, that figure may be underestimated. The Victorian Government undertook a food waste avoidance study in 2010 and estimated that people were wasting $2000 a year on food waste, almost double the NSW figure on which the national stat of $8 billion is based.

Of course, these studies are five-years-old with no further serious research undertaken at an international or national level, nor is there a Government strategy to minimise food waste. It’s a complex issue with no single remedial action that can be applied across all stages of the supply chain, from farm gate to plate.

What prompted me to research food waste in Australia, was a recent report in The Brazil Business, that estimates around 40,000 tons of food goes in the trash everyday in that country, an amount that could feed 19 million people. The report labels Brazil as one of the world leaders in food waste. In Australia, it is estimated consumers discard 20% of the food they purchase. The most wasted fruit and vegetables are bananas, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, lemon and celery.

The only organisation in Australia providing solutions to minimise food waste is ‘DoSomething’, a not-for-profit organisation that brings together the goodwill of the Australian public and the business community to create and promote positive social and environmental change. It promotes awareness campaigns such as National Leftovers Day (26 December), which encourages Australians to love their leftovers and reduce food waste during the festive season and all year round. The website also includes a Food Donation Toolkit and food rescue programs for business. It’s worth a visit (www.foodwise.com.au/).

PH&G May 2015 / Issue 155