Would You Spend $30,000,000 to Fight Food Waste?

When I first looked at how to reduce our spending, I started with food. Unlike council rates, I could control how much we spent and it provided an easy win. But did you know that focusing on reducing food waste can provide wider economic, environmental and social benefits too?

“It is estimated that Australian households throw away almost $4,000 worth of unused food each year.” – Hon Michaelia Cash and Hon Zed Seselja

Why Fight Food Waste?

Social Benefits

“Eat your dinner. There’s starving children in Africa.” Anyone remember this oft-repeated phrase from my childhood? Although trite, food insecurity occurs in all countries, including Australia. Our food industry produces enough to feed 60 million people annually. Australia’s population in 2016 was 24 million. Yet increasing numbers of people, including children, are going hungry.

Foodbank, a charity that works to fight hunger in Australia, states that 15% of the Australian population have experienced food insecurity in the last year. This could mean choosing between eating or paying for petrol to get to work. Physical health, mental health and confidence are all affected. Nearly a million people have to deal with food insecurity daily. In 2017, 65,000 people every month asked for food relief but couldn’t be helped by charities.

Given this reality, it’s difficult to imagine throwing out perfectly edible fruit or vegetables because they don’t meet a contrived aesthetic standard. Yet this is what occurs.

All About Balance - store food correctly.

Environmental Benefits

Next time you pick up an apple in the supermarket, stop to think of all the resources expended to allow it to sit in the display bin, all red and shiny.

The apple is grown, using water, fertiliser and chemicals. It’s picked using farm machinery, then transported by road, rail or air to a distribution centre. Here it is stored in a temperature-controlled environment, before being transported again to its destination. Imagine all the electricity used, chemicals sprayed, petrol fumes generated and non-renewable resources that have been consumed getting this apple from farm to your hand.

Beyond that, if you don’t eat the apple and throw it in the bin, food waste in landfill contributes significantly to greenhouse gas production.

Adventures with Poopsie - meal plan.

Economic Benefits

Australia has a robust food production industry that contributes 3.6% of GDP, or about $60 billion dollars. Despite this, $20 billion dollars is lost each year to food waste. I know it’s simple math, but that is one-third! Can you imagine any business running at a 33% loss? Not for long, that’s certain. Globally, it’s estimated that a billion tonnes of food is wasted each year. That’s nearly ONE TRILLION dollars worth.

No matter what your concern is, whether it’s feeding people, saving money, or saving resources, reducing food loss and waste just makes sense.—Brian Lipinski, WRI

Life We Learn - don't get tempted at the supermarket

Who Is Fighting Food Waste?

The World

Many countries have set up strategies to tackle the problem of food waste. The United Nations runs a Save Food initiative. The UK, USA, Canada, Denmark and France all endorse schemes, or have legislation to help reduce food waste.

Real Miked Up - live from your cupboard.

Australia

Food waste is such an issue in Australia that the government has recently awarded $30 million to establish a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). A CRC is a collaboration between community, industry and researchers to solve identified problems. The Fight Food Waste CRC was developed in line with the National Food Waste Strategy launched on November 20, 2017. Its vision is “to profit and protect Australia’s food industry.”

All About Balance - rotate favourite meals.

What Is the National Food Waste Strategy?

The goal of Australia’s National Food Waste Strategy is halving Australia’s food waste by 2030. The aim is to tackle food waste at six different points. Below is how food waste occurs at each of them:

Primary production—Disease, weather, pests, damage to food during harvesting or storage, changing tastes of consumers, falls in profit or produce not meeting specifications such as size.

Processing and manufacturingDamage to food, damage to packaging, contamination, spills, spoilage due to temperature, throwing away too much of a food in processing (for example, over-trimming of vegetables)

Distribution—Poor handling practices and uncontrolled temperatures.

Retail—Incorrect storage conditions, damage due to poor handling, stock not being efficiently rotated, no access to facilities to recycle food waste.

Hospitality and food services—The same as retail.

Households—Buying too much food, not knowing the difference between use-by and best-before dates, unsure how to store leftovers, no access to collections to recycle food waste, or understanding how to do it themselves.

Quietly Saving - buy in bulk

What Is Australia Doing Now?

There’s some amazing work happening to help reduce food waste in Australia already. Some current initiatives are:

  • Composting to produce bioenergy
  • Converting food waste to animal feed
  • Extracting nutrients from food waste for use in other industries
  • Rescuing wasted food for redistribution
  • Using microwaves for pest reduction
  • ‘Megasonics’ to reduce oil loss in seed & fruit oil production
  • Invisible, edible ‘skins’ to help preserve fruit
  • Laser labelling
  • Web portals and apps to donate, buy or sell excess food
  • Working to change consumer opinion of how food should look
  • Changing eating-out culture to make it acceptable to take food home I always do this. I’ve paid for it anyway, and I get lunch for the next day.
  • Taking food that’s aesthetically unpleasing and repurposing it into pre-chopped and packaged vegetables. I have previously pooh-pooh’d these wastes of money. However, if it means that food is being rescued that otherwise would have been wasted, I’m all for it if the packaging can be improved.

Spreadsheet Dad - meal planning.

How Can I Reduce Food Waste?

Mr. ETT and I used to waste food all the time, particularly fruit and veg. This was a combo of being idealistic—we knew we should be eating them, so we bought them… without any concrete plans of how we were going to use them. Then they slowly withered in the crisper, their softening wrinkliness accusing us each time we opened the door of the fridge. There was a burden of guilt attached to these once brightly coloured, now browning puddles of organic matter.

The first step in reducing food waste is to change your story. Simply say to yourself: “I don’t waste food,” or “Our family doesn’t waste food.” Saying this each time you are about to throw something out can be a clue to reach for your phone and Google “what to do with leftover {insert food here}”. I’m amazed at some of the ways to save or use almost out-of-date food. Don’t forget—I’m lazy. I’m not talking about creating a mural out of preserved, dried food scraps. Many of the solutions are so easy to implement, you’ll think “why haven’t I been doing this all along?”

Wealth From Thirty - don't buy fresh in bulk.
Congratulations to WFT on his recent Rockstar Finance feature!

The second step is to be realistic about what you will use. These days I buy 5 pieces of fruit a week—one for each workday for me. Mr. ETT doesn’t eat fruit at all, so I don’t buy it. If there’s any left over, I’ll buy less the next week.

The third step is to meal plan. If I don’t have a planned use for it, I don’t buy it. I’ll break this is if there’s marked-down vegetables I can bring home and freeze, such as pumpkin. Or, I may substitute a marked-down ingredient for a planned one while I’m shopping, if I know it won’t make a difference to the final meal.

Mawer Money - planning and others

Other Ideas For Reducing Food Waste

There are about 7 million results on Google when you search for how to reduce food waste, so I’m not going to repeat them here. Instead, I turned to other personal finance bloggers to get their top tips for fighting food waste, which you’ve seen throughout the article. If you’d like more wisdom from them, click on the image to visit their websites.

My Sons Father - don't have kids
The first response, and my favourite!

How do you fight food waste? Let us know in the comments below.

11 thoughts on “Would You Spend $30,000,000 to Fight Food Waste?

  1. It is so sad that this is such a HUGE problem. There is enough food produced around the world to eradicate hunger and yet we haven’t found a way to make it happen.

    I think the biggest changes do need to come from the powers the be, however there are lots of suggestions in this article in what individuals can do as well. We can all make a difference.

    P.s. ugly/old fruit makes awesome jams, preserves, pies and puree for topping porridge – yum!

    • I remember learning to make jam at high school, but I’ve never revisited it because I’m scared about sterilising the jars properly. Puree for porridge is a great idea, you could get the sweetness with less added sugar.

  2. Any food scraps we have go to our chickens (or dogs) so nothing is wasted… but yet because I know we have that fallback I think sometimes I’m a bit lax about staying on top of our fresh food…!

    Being realistic a big thing for us particularly fruit (and veg) – meat is easily frozen. We have fruit bowls at work and tbh that usually covers me during the week.

    • Free food at work – bonus! When we got cats, I was so surprised at how they are not interested in a single thing we humans eat. It was a big change coming from the dogs who would basically hoover up anything we allowed them to. We’re all a little slack at some (many) things – as you said, at least it isn’t being wasted.

  3. I rarely waste any food these days as I use my freezer a lot. I don’t strictly plan my meals but as I’m going round the supermarket and putting the items in my basket, I think about which day I’ll be cooking/eating it that week. If I know I’m going to be out, then I buy less.

    I have realised that there’s a lot of ‘stuff’ in my freezer so I’m going to try to not buy anything much over the next few weeks to just eat what’s in there as it needs defrosting! Could be interesting…

    • I still envy people who don’t meal plan. I seem to be missing that “I’ll just pick a few things up and make a meal” gene. I’ve just realised how much easier it is these days with Google, than it was 20 years ago. I’m so lucky!

      Have fun eating your freezer. Who knows what amazing concoctions you’ll create? And remember… if it doesn’t work out, there’s always beer 😉

  4. It really does take a change in attitude to stem this problem. So easy to think that each little bit of food wasted is so cheap in $ terms and not worry about it. I find that just having a general attitude of being as efficient as possible makes me loathe to waste anything! I’m far from perfect when it comes to food however, great to hear these messages and see all the initiatives that are underway in Australia!

    Cheers, Frankie

    • Efficiency FTW! I was excited to read how much is already being done. I think that trying to stop food waste encourages creativity, both on a personal level and operationally. This is one field where we can all make a difference, no matter how small. The personal benefits (because we all know those small $ amounts add up) are worth it. Like Weenie above, I also get the adventure of trying new recipes. It’s just wins all over the place!

  5. Excellent article Mrs ETT. Something I care about too – I HATE wasting food, or water, or anything really. I’ll happily eat food I don’t really want, or even like that much, so it doesn’t go to waste.

    Frankie nailed it – we need to appreciate efficiency. It makes the world a wealthier place, makes us operate at higher standards as a society and makes the most of what we have.

    We tend to buy only what we know we’re going to eat, and use all the stuff in the fridge until it’s basically empty! It makes it easier to decide what to have, no decision overload etc. Simplify. And have about 10 meals on rotation works pretty well I reckon.

    • You bring up an interesting point Dave. Even though I love good food, I too will happily eat food I’m not really interested in. After all, the purpose is to provide energy and nutrition. It’s almost like not buying vegetables because they don’t meet the aesthetic standard. They still function as vegetables. So our meals still function as meals. I even eat things with peas in them these days! (Wow, I’m so adult.)

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