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Food waste increase of $1b in 2019 reveals ongoing challenges for Australia

Australians wasted a total of $10.1 billion worth of food last year, which was more than the year before, a Rabobank report has revealed.

Released on November 26, Rabobank’s 2019 Food Waste Report revealed that the amount of food wasted increased when compared to the 2018 figure of $8.9b. Food waste minimisation has taken a step backwards, as 2018 marked a year where Australians managed to waste less than in 2017 when $9.6b was wasted.

Rabobank surveyed more than 2,300 financial decision makers aged between 18 and 65 to create the report, which gives a state and generational breakdown of food waste.

All states and territories wasted more food than the previous year, with the report revealing that the average household in South Australia wasted 12.8 per cent of food in 2019, compared to 10 per cent in 2018. Other jurisdictions’ average food wastage per household was:

Victoria
2019 – 13.9 per cent

2018 – 11 per cent

NSW/ACT

2019 – 12.8 per cent

2018 – 12 per cent

Queensland

2019 – 11.8 per cent

2018 – 11 per cent

Tasmania

2019 – 11.4 per cent

2018 – 9 per cent

Western Australia

2019 – 13.3 per cent

2018 – 12 per cent

Northern Territory

2019 – 10.4 per cent

2018 – 9 per cent

Household waste makes up 34 per cent of food waste nationally, with 31 per cent from primary production and 25 per cent from manufacturing, the report revealed. It highlighted that Australians are wasting an average of 13 per cent of their weekly grocery spend, equating to $1,026 each year.

Rabobank Australia head of client experience Glenn Wealands said that food waste is one of the most significant challenges facing the nation and planet today.

“According to the Food Sustainability Index, developed by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Australia is the fourth highest food waster in the world. Given the increasing pressure on the planet to provide for a growing population there is an urgent need for greater action across governments, industry, retailers, and consumers to drive real change,” Wealands said.

“As individuals, each and every one of us can and must make a difference. When we waste food, the ramifications go far beyond just dollars, impacting our planet and precious resources. We know from this research that more than three quarters of us care about reducing food waste and are annoyed by it. However, it is alarming that less than three out of 10 of us recognise the impact our food waste has on the environment,” he said.

At a launch of the report in Sydney, Wealands, along with other industry stakeholders, emphasised the need for greater consumer engagement to minimise food waste.

Katy Barfield (left) and Edwina Beveridge discuss food waste at a Rabobank event in Sydney.

Yume Food Australia founder and CEO Katy Barfield explained that there needs to be a shift in consumers’ perception of food.

“We have become so conditioned that your banana needs to be a certain curvature and [needs] a certain amount on a bunch. We’ve got this preconceived idea of what things should look like, but it’s not in nature that we grow food to order in specifications.

“A lot of the product that we get offered at Yume, like 100,000 tonnes a year of potatoes just from South Australia, go to waste because they don’t quite meet the specifications,” Barfield said.

She gave examples from overseas where steps had been taken by retailers to reduce food wastage. Barfield explained that in the UK, Tesco had reduced its measurement specifications on potatoes by 2mm, which resulted in 50,000 tonnes of potatoes being saved from waste per year.

“That’s just staggering. We have to think about what real food actually looks like. A wonky carrot is exactly the same tasting as a straight carrot; and that farmer has to pay exactly the same amount of water input to grow it,” Barfield explained.

Wealands said that Australia could learn from best practice in other countries. “For example, governments in Italy and France banned supermarket food waste in 2016, legislating that unsold goods must be given to food banks or charities. Ultimately, there must be a highlighted sense of urgency now, given we’re wasting more than ever before.”

Edwina Beveridge, a sustainable farmer from Young in NSW, said she would probably support similar legislation in Australia but it’s not a straight forward movement.

Beveridge has built her business, Blantyre Farms, by recycling waste from the food chain by taking tonnes of leftover food, from stale bread to ganache, to feed the pigs on the farm.

“One of the challenges we have of feeding food waste to our pigs, is we have to be careful that we are following biosecurity rules. It’s illegal to feed meat to pigs, so we get limited by what we can use from supermarkets because it could be co-mingled with meat products.

“I get nervous when I hear from a pig farmer taking waste products from a supermarket because I wonder if they are following biosecurity rules,” Beveridge said.