Food Waste

What is the issue here, and why is it an issue?

Food wastage in Australia is immense, no matter how you measure it: between 35 and 40% of municipal waste is typically food, and on top of that 21.5% of commercial and industrial waste is food; the average NSW household throws out $1036 worth of food a year, and it’s estimated Australia wastes $8 billion worth of food a year.

Globally, we throw out roughly one third of all food produced – around 1.3 billion tons per year – all of which requires water, resources, soil nutrients, arable land, and petrochemicals to plant, grow, transport, or store. Wasting food wastes many other resources as well.
Consumers are probably most aware of household food waste, but much of the wastage occurs further up the food and supply chain. An audit of Sydney’s food waste found that 74% of the city’s food waste was occurring pre-consumer, in manufacturing, processing, retail and hospitality.
A further percentage of waste occurs before it even reaches a city, as it never leaves the farm due to packaging standards, prices so low it’s not worth taking a crop to market, storage problems, or losses during processing. One study of carrots in the UK found that 25-30% of the crop was rejected because the supermarket which the crop was destined for would not accept any carrots with a bend in them.
Food waste that rots down in landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and a contributor to climate change.

FAO – Food Wastage Footprint Video

What can I, as a practitioner in this field, do?

Public education programs alongside subsidised compost bins and tools have helped many local councils get residents to compost their own waste at home, stopping it from reaching the government waste collection. Worm farms, green cones, bokashi bins, and compost bins have all been used successfully to divert food waste into reusable garden products.
An increasing number of councils are adding kerbside collection of compostable material (including unrecyclable dirty paper and cardboard) to their waste management strategy.
Councils may consider community compost hubs which residents can bring their waste to – these are often attached to community gardens and managed by volunteers, although some local governments are also looking at council-run drop-off points.

Education campaigns that aim to stop the creation of high levels of food waste are also an option. Councils, government and community groups have created various education programs such as Food Know HowLove Food Hate WasteLove Your Leftovers, and more. These have been successfully targeted at residents, cafes, businesses and other large organisations, and have encouraged both a reduction of food waste created through smaller portions, using leftovers, better awareness of food storage and use-by-dates, etc., and also the recycling of food waste through composting. Using reward stickers for each ton of food waste saved from landfill has been one tactic used to acknowledge participating restaurants and cafes.

Making it easier for farmers to reach consumers with produce that doesn’t conform to supermarket standards will help stop food waste that occurs outside of your council. This could be through farmers’ markets or creating relationships with nearby food hubs.

What other inspiring projects have been documented, videoed, written about elsewhere that can be linked to?

Intermarché, a leading French supermarket, has begun a campaign to address issues of food waste. Watch the video to find out how they are tackling the problem through promoting ‘ugly’ produce.

Feeding the 5000 – a global movement of lunch events, each of which feeds 5000 people with food that would otherwise have gone to waste in their city. This movement was started by Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal. The group are also reviving the tradition of gleaning to save crops that would otherwise rot in the field due to oversupply or being rejected by supermarkets for cosmetic reasons, and diverting them instead to food charities.

San Francisco has mandatory composting and recycling, with a goal of zero waste by 2020. It is also law that all events held in the city must supply recycling and compost bins alongside rubbish bins.

On a smaller scale, a group in inner Melbourne are turning large quantities of food waste from local green grocers and community into compost, using an 18-day hot composting system.

Youth Food Movement have started a campaign targeting the big supermarkets in Australia, attempting to raise the profile of ugly fruit and vegetables and rid supermarkets of appearance standards in fruit and vegetables.

Are there already helpful tools, toolkits, or resources to measure, plan or implement change in this area?

The National Waste Policy: Less waste, More Resources was agreed to by all Australian states in 2009. Out of that agreement came a number of resources, including the Food and Garden Organics Best Practice Collection Manual.

Sustainability Victoria has Guidelines for Auditing Kerbside Waste and a Guide to Best Practice for Waste Management in Multi-unit Developments

Zero Waste South Australia has a Kerbside Performance Reporting guide and undertook a food waste pilot program.

Resource Smart Victoria has a Guide to Best Practice at Resource Recovery Centres.

EPA NSW has a Preferred Resource Recovery by Local Councils document

MIT has created an information sheet for local councils which has 10 Questions for Cities and Towns Considering Residential Kerbside Composting

Unilever has created the Wise up on Waste set of resources for use by cafes and restaurants to avoid creating food waste and conduct food waste audits to reduce waste.

Who else is working on this?

The City of Yarra and Cultivating Community have created Food Know How which targets business and households to cut down how much food waste they create, and compost the waste they do create.

Where else can I (as a practitioner) get information, resources or guidance?

Sustainability Victoria

Zero Waste SA


Further information

Other useful links

As a last resort, businesses should consider donating excess food before it becomes waste. Organisations such as ReapOzHarvestSecondBite and others can all help ensure food reaches those who need it rather than becoming waste. There is also a Food Donation Toolkit to help navigate the area for those businesses who want to get involved.