It’s time to reduce our food waste

Over the last several years the European Union has been working on reducing waste and as a result many European countries are looking at how to meet the ambitious goal of reducing food waste by 50 per cent by 2025.

France is tackling food waste with laws that will make it illegal for shops of a certain size to destroy or throw away unsold food. Supermarkets will have to donate their unsold food to charities and foodbanks, or face large fines.

This week the NZ Herald also reported on the latest initiative from Denmark, where food otherwise destined for the waste stream is diverted to a special supermarket. They sell food with damaged packaging or past its official best before date, or fresh produce deemed too ugly for sale at the usual retailers, for heavily discounted prices.

Here in New Zealand, we know that in 2014 households contributed 229,000 tonnes of food waste to landfills contributing about 326,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. In total that food that was worth about $872 million. We have this information from surveys and from data from councils.  But councils control less than 20 per cent of the waste stream in New Zealand so we don’t know how much food is wasted from the retail sector.

Countdown and other supermarkets do work alongside charities to divert food to food banks and food rescue organisations like Wellington’s Kaibosh who get the food to where it’s needed.

Even so it was reported in 2014 that despite Countdown’s very sound reduction activities they still sent 12,000 tonnes of waste to landfill.  If we extrapolate that across the entire grocery sector, the amount of wasted food adds up.

I talked this issue over with Paul Henry on yesterday’s show.  There’s still some thinking to do about how to increase diversion of good food to those who need it, but its time has well and truly come. When roughly one-third of all the food produced in the world ends up in landfill in wealthy countries while multitudes starve in the developing ones it is clear the distribution system is broken.