Food Waste - Reduce and Recycle
What’s the global situation?
Roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. This inevitably also means that huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain. Food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial agricultural production, down to final household consumption, from farm to fork.
How does Australian stack up?
A recent Australian vegetable industry study showed that over 277,000 tonnes of the major vegetable lines, representing around 25% of production, is wasted each year before it gets to the farm gate. This represents a loss of $155 million to growers. The major reason is that produce does not meet the standards required; which in many cases is more to do with appearance rather than being inedible. This otherwise edible product is usually dumped, used for stock feed, or rotary hoed back into the soil.
Not all crops are the same on the waste front. The greatest levels of “on farm” waste occur with carrot growing where around 93,000 tonnes of carrots produced, do not get to market. This represents 31% of total carrot production.
DoSomething’s FoodWise website says Australians throw out $8 billion worth of edible food every year. Food waste makes up 40 per cent of total household verge collected bin waste.
Where does it go?
Most food waste from all sectors finishes up in landfill. Food waste contributes to the production of methane. The comparative impact of methane on the global greenhouse effect is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
Food waste in landfill also liquefies and leads to the mobilization of heavy metals and other contaminants, which can make landfill leachate a deadly cocktail.
The cost of collecting and transporting household rubbish to landfill or alternative Waste treatment plants is something we all see reflected in the bin fees charged by councils. A quick average shows an annual cost of around $300 per household. Landfill rates doubled in WA in 2015 for putrescible waste from $28 per tonne to $55 with a further increase of $5 per year until 2019. The current NSW metropolitan landfill fee of $120.90 clearly points to an upward trend in costs.
What can we do about it?
At the production level:
On farm wastes contain both plant nutrients and carbon, which can be retrieved by composting. C-Wise can offer composting expertise to assist growers to deal with their waste on the farm. We were able to help Voyager Estate do this as can be seen in this video https://youtu.be/KDrftABCnJQ.
Composted products can then be used to build soil fertility. C-Wise ran on farm trials in Baldivis to see the effects of composted products added to the sand for growing a cauliflower crop. Apart from improving yield, one unanticipated outcome was the suppression of the soil borne disease clubroot. This led to significant quality improvement, which had a measurable dollar return, as there were more export quality cauliflower heads than in the control plot.
At the distribution level:
A French supermarket Intermarche launched a campaign to sell “Inglorious” vegetables, those with blemishes that were only skin deep. Australian supermarkets have followed with “Imperfect Picks” and “Odd Bunch” in an effort to highlight vegetables and fruit that would not ordinarily get to the shelves but could now be purchased at a discounted price.
At the consumption level:
Consumers have a role to play in the way we spend our food dollars. Already we can see a rapid expansion of organic produce much of which is not perfect. Locavore describes the ideal of eating locally produced food. Leftovers are also targeted by famous chefs. Jamie Oliver has developed fabulous looking recipes made from leftovers that would otherwise haunt the fridge.
Waste is becoming a precious resource.
If we were to use all the food waste on the planet hunger would be eradicated.
Many companies are introducing recycling and reuse of waste into their production systems. For example food processors using their food waste to generate electricity through Anaerobic Digestion plants.
In order to close the loop on organics, we need to put carbon and nutrients back into the soil to avoid loss of precious minor nutrients. Watch our soil carbon story to know more about the role of soil carbon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKpAfunrVJk.