Maverick Citizen

Food Justice


Effective ways to reduce food waste and boost nutrition security

Effective ways to reduce food waste and boost nutrition security
Household waste is “ignorance,"people don't realise that they waste food and also not the magnitude thereof. (Photo: Food Tank / Wikipedia)

The United Nations Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index Report reveals staggering global food waste trends. Experts have called for more sustainable agricultural policies and responsible consumption of agricultural produce to stop food waste and create better food and nutrition security.

In 2022, 1.05 billion tonnes of food waste were generated globally, amounting to 132kg per capita and almost one-fifth of all food available to consumers. Of the total food wasted in 2022, 60% was at the household level, with food services responsible for 28% and retail for 12%.

This was revealed in the United Nations Environment Programme’s (Unep’s) Food Waste Index Report 2024, released in late March. In South Africa, 10 million tonnes of food are wasted a year. Food reclaimers have estimated this is equivalent to 30 billion meals.

Dr Suzan Oelofse, a researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said few countries have robust baseline data available to track progress in reducing food waste in line with the Social Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 target.

“However, every person has a role to play and should act to reduce the food waste that is within their control. Meeting the SDG target to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 requires concerted, collaborative effort by all. Reducing food waste will make positive contributions to reducing hunger,” Oelofse said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Government releases ‘draft strategy’ to reduce annual 10 tonnes of food losses and waste

Oelofse shared her insights from the research on the scale and impact of food waste. She said one of the driving factors of household waste was ignorance.

“People don’t realise that they waste food and also not the magnitude thereof. Other main drivers for South African households wasting food are:

  • Date labels indicating the sell-by date has passed. The sell-by date has nothing to do with the expiry date;
  • Concerns for the health and safety of family members;
  • Preparing too much;
  • Buying too much, especially falling for special offers and buying bulk packets of fresh produce; and
  • Attractive displays in shops were also identified as temptations that resulted in over-purchasing.”

In a statement unpacking the Food Waste Index, Unep said, “Only four G20 countries (Australia, Japan, UK, the US) and the European Union have food waste estimates suitable for tracking progress to 2030. Canada and Saudi Arabia have suitable household estimates, with Brazil’s estimate expected in late 2024. In this context, the report serves as a practical guide for countries to consistently measure and report food waste.”

Although developed countries have larger quantities of food waste, the Unep report aims to debunk the myth that food waste is a “rich country” problem.

Data show that levels of household food waste differ for high-income, upper-middle and lower-middle-income countries by just 7kg per capita.

“At the same time, hotter countries appear to generate more food waste per capita in households, potentially due to higher consumption of fresh foods with substantial inedible parts and a lack of robust cold chains,” the Unep statement read.

Matlou Setati, the executive of the Food Safety and Sustainability Initiative at the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, echoed Oelofse’s sentiments.

“Over and above understanding date markings, buying local, embracing all types of fruits and vegetables, including those with cosmetic issues usually called ugly fruits/veggies, ensuring food is stored safely at required temperatures [is important],” Setati said.

“When in store, shop non-perishables first and then end off the shopping with perishables to ensure the cold chain is maintained en route to home, and store safely immediately upon arrival.

“The best education for any household or company comes from separating waste and having a separate bin for food waste in the house. Seeing is believing and they will help the household to identify foods that are wasted and change behaviour. Food wasted is money and resources wasted.

Food waste and hunger

“There is a correlation between hunger and food waste. For example, statistics on food loss and waste in SA show that an estimated 60% of households are food insecure (30% at risk of and 31% experiencing hunger), and more than 13 million children live in poverty.

“And as many as 14 million people in SA go to bed hungry every night. What is particularly worrying about this situation is that an estimated 10.3 million tonnes of food are wasted per year in SA (a third of the food available), Setati said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA faces a catastrophic hunger crisis while 10m tonnes of foodstuff goes to waste every year

“Food waste is a global tragedy. Millions will go hungry today as food is wasted across the world,” Unep’s executive director, Inger Andersen, said.

“Not only is this a major development issue, but the impacts of such unnecessary waste are causing substantial costs to the climate and nature. The good news is we know if countries prioritise this issue, they can significantly reverse food loss and waste, reduce climate impacts and economic losses, and accelerate progress on global goals,” Andersen said.

Oelofse had some tips for reducing household waste:

  • Improve stock control at the household level. Place the newly bought items at the back and then use the oldest ones first.
  • Plan shopping by checking the cupboards and compiling a shopping list, and most importantly, stick to the list.
  • Plan meals based on the number of people who have to eat, not for potential unexpected visitors, who mostly don’t show.
  • Plan portion sizes carefully to avoid leftovers.
  • Use leftovers to create innovative meals, or pack as lunchboxes for the next day. Leftovers that are not eaten in a day or two are forgotten and wasted. DM

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rob Fisher says:

    One way I find to preserve fresh veg for much longer.
    We have a chest freezer which allows you to turn the temperature down to fridge temp. Bags of lemons and boxes of tomatoes can go in just like that.
    This is just above freezing and stays constant, load shedding or not.
    Even a lettuce keeps for at least a week.
    It also saves on electricity because the cold air does not flood out every time you open the fridge door as it would with an upright fridge.

  • Judith Heunis says:

    Food waste in smaller households could be reduced if we were able to buy all fruit and vegetables without prepackaging. Less plastic too! Buying a bag, or even a bunch, of vegetables like turnips is very likely to lead to waste if you only want one to make soup. Even vegetables like broccoli can be sold “loose”, so that consumers can buy exactly what they need.

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