Australia, Opinion, Waste & Resource Recovery

A problem shared, is a problem halved: Tackling food waste

When I started OzHarvest 15 years ago, no one outside of the waste industry was talking about food waste. Now everyone is talking about it, but I’m still frustrated at the lack of action to tackle this problem at a national level, let alone halve it!

Based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 (UN SDGs), the target is very clear – to halve food waste by 2030. The action required to achieve this goal is certainly complex, but the clock is ticking and we need to pick up the pace.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) the first step should involve setting targets, measuring how much food is being wasted now, and then making a plan. There is no doubt that major change needs to happen to reduce food waste in Australia, but we have at least put our foot in the right direction with the creation of a National Food Waste Strategy in 2017.

Thanks to the new Food Waste Baseline Report, we now know that Australia wastes 7.3 million tonnes of food each year at a staggering cost of $20 billion to the economy, and is divided into thirds between farms, industry and households.

The reasons for wastage along the supply chain are vast and complex and make solving this problem no easy task. The bottom line is that wasting food wastes everything. Precious resources such as water, land, energy and fuel used in food production, packaging and distribution, all go to waste for no purpose. Not to mention the greenhouse gases that are needlessly emitted at every point of the supply chain, making food waste a major contributor to climate change.

Scientists from Project Drawdown have identified reducing food waste as the third most effective way to reverse climate change. Clearly this is not just nice to have; it’s essential. So why isn’t more being done to tackle Australia’s food waste crisis?

Many countries have already taken great strides towards reducing food waste. I was recently invited to attend South Korea’s Food Film Festival and was blown away to find out that their food recycling rate is at 95 per cent! This is achieved through strict government policy charging people for their food waste by weight.

In 2016, France became the first country to pass a law against food waste, mandating supermarkets and restaurants of a certain size to donate all unsold food rather than send it to landfill. Whilst I’m not sure that either policies are the answer for Australia, they have both gone some way to prompt progress and help make reducing food waste the norm in both countries.

The business world has a major role to play and I was buoyed by the fact that two-thirds of the world’s 50 largest food companies have set a food waste reduction target and introduced programs to accelerate action – for example, Ikea has been doing this to reduce the food waste from its in-store restaurants in half. There are many Australian companies already doing great work in this space, but bold action and leadership from our major food businesses will make a huge difference and speed us towards the 2030 goal.

At a national level we need genuine commitment and solid funding from our government to drive the food waste agenda. We need to align public policy, private sector action, and farmer-to-consumer behaviour, but above all we need to recognise this as a shared goal that requires change at all levels of society.

OzHarvest is already pushing forward with innovation to tackle this issue, such as our new Food App that connects food donors directly with local charities in areas where our vans can’t reach. And through ForPurposeCo, our for-profit, for purpose innovation arm, we are pioneering new technology to help reduce food waste. From orange juice vending machines that use wonky fruit, to Winnow technology helping hotels and restaurants to measure their food waste and new biotechnology solutions to help food last longer.

Cutting back on household food waste is the single most powerful way that citizens can address climate change. Making small changes at home is a quick and easy win, from looking at what you have at home before you go shopping, only buying what you need, storing food correctly and cooking up what you’ve got!

A review of food labels to make “use by” and “best before” dates less confusing would also have a major impact on reducing household food waste. Earlier this year, UK supermarket giant Tesco scrapped best before dates on a range of fresh fruit and vegetable products after a survey revealed it was a major cause of food waste. Along with consumer education and nation-wide implementation of organic waste recycling, food waste from homes could easily be cut in half.

I certainly do not have all the answers, but one thing I’m convinced about is that no one likes the idea of wasting food. I truly believe that to ensure Australia can achieve our goal of halving food waste we must share the responsibility amongst us all.

After all, a problem shared is a problem halved!