We live in a world where 1 in 4 of the calories we create are never eaten.
Worldwide, food waste annually costs over AUD$1.75 trillion.
If you are gasping at those statistics- so are international governing bodies. In an effort to reduce poverty and inequality, encourage economic growth and mitigate environmental impacts, the United Nation’s (UN) has established Sustainable Development Goals. One of their goals includes a target of halving food waste by 2030.
Australia has acknowledged our domestic AUD$20 billion food waste problem. In response to, and aligned with, the UN Goals, Australia has set a National Food Waste Strategy. The strategy is certainly a step in the right direction- it falls short of enacting legislation.
At the rate we currently waste food, it appears that governments will not be able to legislate quickly enough to curb the problem and its effects.
Ideal world – a circular economy
So what could we do to in an ideal world? Australia’s food sector would operate under a circular economy. This is an economic model that aims to avoid waste and to preserve the value of resources (raw materials, energy and water) for as long as possible. Products and materials are continuously re-circulated. In a linear economic model, products and materials are discarded as waste after use.
Earlier this year, KPMG and the Fight Food Waste CRC released a report that details how a circular economy would be an effective way to fight food waste. If a circular Economy model is adopted, Australia has an opportunity to reduce, reuse and recycle food waste. Food waste would be reduced, re-used and recycled into useful by-products such as animal feed or fertiliser. Of course, the biggest, cheapest and easiest opportunity for impact is to reduce waste in the first place. This minimises the overall amount of waste that would then need to be re-used and recycled.
Unfortunately at this time, a circular economy is not a reality. However, in the fight on food waste, we can make a difference if we adopt the fundamental concepts in our own lives.
Reality – a linear economy
The reality is we predominantly operate in a linear economy. That is how our food systems are currently designed. We purchase food and use what we want. If we don’t end up using it or finishing it, we throw it out. Even with good intentions, most of us waste more than we want to admit, or than we realise.
This is unfortunately commonplace in a nation like Australia where food is readily available and abundant, and where poverty is not the norm.
Building the bridge between a linear and circular economy
In the absence of popular awareness of the issue and it’s magnitude and taking into consideration the time involved in waiting for government legislation to be passed and be implemented, an ideal world is very unlikely to occur any time soon. So how do we get from where we are to where we want to be? We build a bridge of course!
Here are a few top tips to help us bridge the gap:
Drop the taboos: In some parts of the world it is considered polite to leave a small amount of food on the plate to show that the host hasn’t scrimped on portions. Similarly, guests are usually a little reserved about taking extra food home. Perhaps it should become the new usual, for example, for caterers to provide take away containers with signs saying “help yourself”.
Match what you are buying to the cadence of your shopping: Often, we are led to our purchases with our eyes. Supermarkets know this and design their displays to encourage us to purchase their products. This can lead to lots of food waste. Think about how often you are going shopping and try to match that with what you buy. For example, if you’re only going to the supermarket fortnightly, a large amount of fresh food may not be your best purchase. Frozen vegetables, dried legumes, grains and meat that you can freeze will probably generate less waste. If you do run across something fresh and irresistible- do a quick switch-eroo for something else on your shopping list. Perhaps roast can wait til next week.
Embrace smaller piles of food: Instagram-worthy fridges, abundant displays at the grocery store, a heaping bread basket at dinner or overflowing buffets – these all are like candy to our eyes. But sadly, they are all a one-way road to a giant pile of food waste. Buy what you need, serve what you will eat, and don’t be afraid to purchase the lonely banana or the milk that will expire in two days if you’ll get through it anyway!
Display love in a different way: Taking care of your friends and family can often be bundled with having large amounts of food available. Perhaps shifting our mindset away from abundance to showing love by serving a comfortable amount and not being wasteful in the process. We can learn to love in a different way by cooking a new, exciting dish for the family, or having more home-cooked meals than you did before, rather than ordering in or engaging caterers. You can even show love to yourself by learning new healthy or more sustainable recipes that will help you use up all those produce odds and ends in your fridge.
So, even though we have some time to wait for government legislation and collective awareness to catch up, the silver lining in addressing food waste, is that everyone can dial up their own self-awareness and make a big impact.
Start thinking about the little things that you can do in your own everyday lives to start making a dent in the food waste issue, and collectively, we will all make an impact whilst we wait for the bigger things to happen! Who knows … maybe all of our small efforts together will amount to a larger change than the bigger things in the long run!
Have you entered our Trash to Treasure Challenge yet?