By Nicola Heath
The statistics around food waste are startling. Globally, we waste around one third of all food produced, which equates to a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes. At the same time, one in ten people on the planet go hungry.
“In the field with farmers, at processing plants, and in supermarkets, homes and restaurants – right across that food production, processing and consumption supply chain, we’re wasting 30 percent of food. In Australia, it’s 40 percent,” says Professor Andy Lowe, Director of Food Innovation at the University of Adelaide.
According to some estimates, that equates to more than four million tonnes of waste discarded each year, which costs the Australian economy $20 billion per annum.
“Up to 2.2 million tonnes of food is wasted from the commercial and industrial sectors, resulting in significant waste disposal charges and lost product costs to business,” states the National Food Waste Strategy — a 2017 government report that aims to reduce food waste in Australia by 50 per cent by 2030.
The environmental impact of food waste is considerable too. Some food waste gets composted, but most goes to landfill where it breaks down and releases greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The report states that: “7.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent will be generated from food waste disposed of in 2014–15 over the life of its decay.”
How to reduce food waste
There are a number of practical strategies businesses can adopt to reduce waste in the food services sector.
“Shorten the links in the supply chain to reduce food waste,” says Lowe. Additionally, buy from markets which are close to the source of production or grow your own where possible.
Poor stock management, storage, and handling practices are drivers of food waste in the hospitality sector, as highlighted in the National Food Waste Strategy. Developing limited menus with fewer options is one way to reduce waste, says Assistant Professor in International Studies at the University of Canberra, Bethaney Turner,
“Being aware of what you’ve got, keeping it visible and rotating stock are keys ways in which we can…reduce waste.”
Another option is to reduce serving sizes. Nearly 30 percent of Australians leave food on their plate when they dine out.
“It’s okay to have extravagant meals every now and then but we have to think carefully about not over-ordering or over-buying,” says Turner.
Professor Lowe would like to see the revival of ‘doggie bags’, where diners take home leftovers from a restaurant. “Allowing customers to take home food that the seller considers safe for consumption…[is] a significant step to help reduce food waste,” he says.
Some eateries address health concerns by packaging leftovers with a sticker providing information about food safety guidelines.
Solving a global problem
Reducing food waste is achievable but requires systematic change, says Turner. “We need structures that help us repurpose leftover food. We need good composting structures and organic waste disposal, and we need people to think carefully about how much they’re buying.”
The good news is that individuals, small businesses, and larger organisations can make small changes to their behaviour to be part of the solution to this global problem.