July 8, 2020 – When we think of food waste, many of us have a picture of the scraps we throw into our bin or compost at the end of each meal. From time to time we might feel a twinge of guilt about how our leftovers could be a full meal for someone living in poverty, but mostly, we don’t give it more than a passing thought – unless of course your grandmother is there and she demands that you not waste precious food and you put the leftovers in the fridge (only for you to bin it the next day). In any event, we rarely consider the bigger impact that food waste is having on our environment or economy.

Our perspective as individuals is a tiny snapshot of the full picture of food waste. That’s because, as consumers, we’re at the end of the food chain. There’s a huge volume of food waste that happens throughout the food production and consumption cycle and very few of us have insight as to what’s actually going on.

While business owners in the food and hospitality industries, food producers and environmentalists have a better idea of the extent of food waste and its impacts, there’s not much incentive to do something about it.

According to a recent report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), around one-third of all food products are wasted. Global food waste currently costs the world’s economy close to AUD $1.75 trillion every year and this is expected to increase to AU$2.2 trillion by 2030 from the 2.1 billion tonnes of food waste we generate.

But it’s not just about the money. Ben Simon, founder of the Food Recovery Network in the US, says “when we waste food, we’re not just wasting food. We’re also wasting all the resources that went into growing it. Growing food that goes to waste ends up using 21% of our freshwater, 19% of our fertiliser, 18% of our cropland and 21% of our landfill volume.”

A groundswell of evidence is showing just how big a problem food waste is. Here are five mind-blowing facts that illustrate this:

1. Food waste accounts for 8% of greenhouse gases

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food waste accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is because, when food ends up in landfill, it breaks down without oxygen and releases methane – a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth.

Landfills are not a sustainable solution for waste management because they require long-term management for decades to ensure they don’t pollute our environment, in particular our atmosphere and groundwater. Land is a scarce resource and people are increasingly reluctant to live near landfills or build on top of a closed one.

We might think that most big cities around the world have room for landfills. However, countries that experience the most food waste are mostly urbanised, which has resulted in high property prices for land within commutable distance of urban areas.

This means landfills are being increasingly sited hundreds of kilometres away from cities, which translates into more emissions from trucks transporting waste to the landfills.

2. Good food is wasted while millions can’t afford to eat

The UK’s longest-running food redistribution charity, FareShare, says hundreds of thousands of tonnes of good food is wasted by the UK food industry every year, while millions can’t afford to eat. The organisation says 8.4 million people struggle to afford money for food – equivalent to the entire population of London.

Of this figure, 4.7 million live in ‘severely food insecure’ homes. This means their food intake is greatly reduced and children regularly experience physical sensations of hunger.

Worldwide, the United Nations (UN) reports that 9.2% of the world population (around 700 million people) experience severe levels of food insecurity and accompanying hunger.

3. Food waste in Australia alone would fill 9,000 swimming pools

Landfilling is the most common way we dispose of food waste. In Australia, over five million tonnes of food ends up as landfill – enough to fill 9,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools or 24 Sydney Opera Houses. Around 35% of the average household bin ends up in landfill as food waste – around 9kg each week.

This is a significant waste of a valuable commodity, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimating as many as 25,000 people lose their lives every day as a result of hunger. That calculates to 9.1 million people who die of starvation every year.

4. 40% of food waste comes from restaurants and other food business

While consumers are the worst culprits when it comes to food waste, the Australian Department of Environment and Energy alone has revealed that the commercial and industrial sectors dispose of 2.2 million tonnes of food waste every year – the bulk of which ends up in landfill.

Apart from the environmental impact, the costs for taxpayers and businesses is huge – adding up to between $99 and $231 million each year. There is a range of alternatives to dumping food waste in landfills, including composting, donating and food digesters such as the ORCA food waste digester from IUGIS.

5. 40% of food purchased for stock ends up as food waste

While it’s no surprise that the foodservice and hospitality industries generate huge volumes of food waste, it is a shock when you consider how much happens at an individual level. Research by RMIT University in Melbourne reveals that at least 40% of food purchased for stock ends up in the bins of restaurants, cafes and other foodservice businesses around Australia.

Another statistic shows that a single restaurant produces around 70,000 kilos of food waste a year, of which a sizeable portion could be repurposed or disposed of far better.

One way of redirecting edible or reusable food waste is to donate it – you could be eligible for tax breaks. Organisations like Second Bite and OzHarvest collect quality excess food from commercial outlets and deliver it to more than 1,300 charities supporting people in need across Australia. They rescue over 180 tonnes of food each week from over 3,500 donors.

For food that isn’t suitable for donation, a IUGIS food digester is a cost-effective, hygienic and environmentally-friendly solution. And, the increased visibility that staff have of the amount food that is being disposed of via a digester get’s them thinking more about food waste, which generally improves buying practices, serving sizes and less food being left on customers plates. Check out IUGIS here.

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