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Report shows spike in COVID food waste

The 2020 Food Waste Report by Rabobank illustrates that the Coronavirus pandemic has derailed Australia’s progress in reducing food waste, leading to a spike in the amount of food Australian households are throwing out.

This year, Rabobank surveyed Australians in March and again in September, finding that food waste increased significantly after the onset of the pandemic as people focused on keeping safe at home, spending more time cooking (46 per cent), experimenting with recipes (37 per cent) and ordering food delivery services (23 per cent).

The research shows that Australians were making positive inroads to reducing food waste before the pandemic hit, with food wastage dropping almost two percentage points from an average of 12.9 per cent of food purchased in 2019 to 11.1 per cent in early 2020. The latest September results show a lapse in progress, with Aussies’ annual food waste creeping back up during the pandemic, with the average household now wasting 12.7 per cent of the food they buy, totalling $10.3 billion nationally.

The dollar value of food waste also hit an all-time high, reaching $1,043 per year per household, reflecting a greater weekly food spend during lockdown months.

Rabobank Australia head of client experience Glenn Wealands said it was expected that food waste would be de-prioritised by Australians during this stressful year when our attention has been focused on other urgent issues.

“We were making headway in terms of minimising food waste before we faced this pandemic, however, our research shows we’ve headed off track. The average household is now wasting nearly 13 per cent of the groceries they buy and also spending more on food delivery and self-prepare food services. We’ve also seen almost 10 per cent of households increasing their spend on food to stockpile items in case supply ran out during lockdown,” he said.

Delivery services soar

The findings also spotlighted that there was an increase in the number of people using food delivery services in 2020, rising from 54 per cent pre-pandemic to 61 per cent currently, with more people using these services at least once a week (23 per cent, which is up 9 per cent from pre-pandemic). As dining out took a hit, Australians have also increasingly turned to self-prepare ‘meal-kit’ food services, from 28 per cent pre-pandemic to 36 per cent currently.

While food delivery and ‘meal kits’ have offered a welcomed release for many from the monotony of cooking every evening, the research shows a worrying correlation between uptake of these services and increased food waste; those most likely to use these services also waste over double the amount of food when compared to those who don’t.

“This is a real watch out for consumers,” Wealands added, “We note through the research that consumers are working harder than ever to keep their finances in check, so it’s especially important for those who order pre-prepared meals, to be mindful that unless the services are used wisely, it’s bad for the wallet and bad for reducing food waste.”

The research shows that the majority (77 percent) of Australians care about reducing waste, with 78 per cent annoyed when they see food wasted and 64 per cent wanting people to think about the impact on the environment.

However, only a small group is concerned with the connection between food waste and wider environmental impacts such as climate change (24 per cent), the loss of animals/extinction (21 per cent), water shortages (16 per cent) and pollution (12 per cent).

“Aussies clearly care about reducing their food waste, but we all need to understand that the impact is far greater than just hip-pocket savings. It’s our collective responsibility to make changes and start to minimise waste across the entire food supply chain,” Wealands said.

“There are some inspiring innovations going on at all stages of food production from farmers to manufacturers, retailers and at a government level. If we all do our bit, we can have a huge impact on the amount of food wasted and create a more sustainable future.”