John Oliver takes on food waste

Food waste took center stage on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Oliver basically summed up all the problems of food waste in a hilarious but also sobering rant. He quite thoroughly confronted the problem of food waste in America, including the paradox of food insecurity in the face of massive waste, the environmental impact of food waste, and the financial costs as well.

Oliver says, “Food waste is like the band Rascal Flatts: it can fill a surprising number of stadiums even though most people consider it complete garbage.”   Check out the whole video (although fair warning – it isn’t entirely G rated):

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Who’s helping fight food waste

The Guardian has run numerous articles on the topic of food waste, including one highlighting a few waste warriors in the area of food loss and waste. Check out some inspiring stories about people and organizations who are making a difference in the world of food waste, including charities who rescue food and serve up meals, and tech savvy entrepreneurs who link farmers and buyers or retailers and volunteers for pick ups.  Read their stories here. 

“Bon Appétit!” – Paris implements Climate & Energy Action Plan that rethinks waste and its food system

By Samantha Pascoal, Applied Human Nutrition Student & Research Assistant

Paris food waste

Paris, a romantic metropolis known for its croissants, La Seine and the Eiffel tower will hopefully soon be known for its forward-thinking Climate and Energy Action Plan implemented in 2007.   The plan has ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, and also calls for increased use of renewable energy.  Parisian residents, restaurants, and industries have adopted sustainable consumption strategies that generate less waste in order to achieve these goals.

Creating a more sustainable food system, and thus a more circular economy, has been an instrumental strategy.  This has involved…

  • A Sustainable Food Plan, which promotes sustainable food products (organic, in-season and local) agriculture in municipal and departmental restaurants;
  • Consideration of the creation of a central purchasing office for large industries, to help them find reliable sources of innovative products that have sustainable life cycles;
  • The shortening of supply chains, making local food a reality in Paris; and
  • A Local Waste Prevention Programme (PLPD) that reduces household waste: working toward a 15% reduction from 2007 levels by 2020.

What are Parisian residents and stakeholders encouraged to do to ensure future progress?
To tackle the high levels of preventable wastes such as food and packaging, the Paris PLPB proposes a suite of strategies:

  • Educating citizens about their waste production;
  • Promoting the purchase of minimally-packaged products (tap water, bulk food);
  • Encouraging citizens to deal with toxic, electronic, and medical wastes responsibly through the comprehensive hazardous wastes management stream; and
  • Demonstrating good practices by improving practices by Paris administration.

Other metropolises around the world could learn and benefit from similar procedures.

Positive and dramatic change has already been observed as a result of the implementation of these strategies.  For example, atmospheric pollution from food waste decreased from 521,000 to 484,000 (Tonnes C02 equivalent) between 2004 and 2009.  A total reduction of 35 kg of household and similar waste per resident was seen between 2006-2010, compared with the 23 kg per resident reduction expected within that time.  Overall, the Climate and Energy Action Plan has overseen the reduction in general greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption in Paris, and an increase in used renewable energy sources.  The case in Paris shows that by focusing on decreasing waste and re-formatting food systems, the human impact on the environment can be considerably reduced.

Reducing food waste shouldn’t reinforce food poverty stigma

When people are confronted with the enormous problem of food waste in society, one common initial idea is that it should just be collected and given to ‘the poor.’ I remember speaking with a girl in France who was arguing very passionately that the wasted food from supermarkets and restaurants should go to homeless people (and she’s finally getting her wish). However, when I asked if she herself  would like to eat that food, she was less than enthused – but still felt that someone else ought to.

Of course it may be very well meaning to want to see someone benefit from the waste,  but this is problematic because it ignores strategies higher up in the waste hierarchy, namely reducing food waste (then you can use all your saved money to help someone out). It also feels pretty condescending. Who are ‘the poor’? Just because they are in some way disadvantaged, should they be expected to eat what you or someone else has deemed ‘garbage’?  Well maybe ‘one man’s trash is another’s treasure’ and ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ but personally I hope there are approaches that can maintain the recipients’ dignity and perhaps offer a bit more choice.

This isn’t an area with easy solutions, although as mentioned one option might be to waste less and use your saved money for donations which give people more power to choose, or food banks the ability to buy what is actually needed. However, even with changed habits at home, businesses are still going to have food that for one reason or another is edible but not salable. How can we de-stigmatize this food?  I know from my experience that a lot of the food that comes out the back doors of stores and restaurants is totally edible, so why shouldn’t it go to fill the failures in our food system? Yet things start to get a bit messed up when we start mixing a waste hierarchy with a social hierarchy.  The rich eat the organic filet, the lower middle-class the chicken nuggets, and then anyone below that can eat the leftovers and garbage from the above categories, and no need to ask them – they should just be grateful.  Umm no. Yet while not that simple or explicit, sometimes it feels that this is how we think food waste should be handled. And this model is clearly not that good for the disempowered people who are given food which, however delicious, was perceived as unfit for others yet good enough for them. So how do we challenge these structures? One way is for ritzy restaurants start serving ‘garbage’ food like monk fish heads, or for food rescue organizations open restaurants or catering companies and serve waste food back to a variety of people. This flips the ideas of who should be eating donated or  ‘waste’ food on its head. Rude Food in Sweden serves up delicious meals that are 90% rescued, and it’s not a homeless shelter or inner city feeding program: it’s a catering company.  Food Cycle in the UK  serves meals of rescued food to people who are food insecure or at risk of social isolation, but they also offer a catering service which then helps employ people and fund other programs.I see this sort of use of food waste as posing a greater challenge to the current system, challenging the idea of who should  be eating rescued food, showing that it is good enough for everyone. This is an even more shocking (and hopefully behaviour-changing) idea.

Catering

So what am I trying to say with this uncharacteristically long post? I haven’t solved this, I am confronted with this issue all the time, but I hope to think a bit more critically about equality and dignity when it comes to food and other donations. How can I treat people with the respect that they deserve, to maintain their rights to dignity and choice while doing my part to create a more food secure and waste-less society? Food waste and food poverty shouldn’t co-exist, but food donations are hardly a panacea either.

Understanding behaviours driving food waste

Last year, be Waste Wise did a panel discussion with some key figures in the field of food waste  and looked at the behavioural drivers behind food waste that would need to be tackled in order to combat this waste. The article based on this panel discussion boiled identified six key issues:

1. The data: The stats around food waste are sadly lacking, which can make tackling an issue with so many unknowns a major challenge. Measuring waste both created and avoided is not easy and there is no one way to do so, making comparability an issue.

2. Lack of kitchen know how:  People spend less time preparing food than in the past, many ‘normal’ food skills have been lost, and we are no longer adept a making use of leftovers or kitchen scraps. Is it reasonable to tell people to invest more time in preparing their own food?

3. Visibility: Few people are confronted with their food waste in aggregate; not seeing it can easily translate to not seeing it as an issue.

4. Reduce packaging waste or food waste: Sometimes increased packaging can extend the life of food and prevent food waste, but it can also creates waste in other streams. This reveals larger scale issues in our food system: why do we need to make our fresh food last so much longer in the first place? Is our food system too large?

5.  Cheap food: Cheap food may be seen as a way to make calories accessible and affordable to more people, however, cheap food can contribute to food being undervalued and then wasted. However, few people would feel right saying that making food more expensive is the solution.

6. Policy approach: Voluntary agreements or landfill bans? Food waste can be tackled by different approaches, depending on political opinions. A big part of the debate is whether changes should be voluntary or enforced. In some places this may mean focusing on encouraging change in the private sector or educating the public as opposed to requiring source separation or banning organics from landfills.

Changing people’s behaviour to decrease food waste and to manage residual organic waste is not a simple task. If anything, the outcome of this panel discussion shows that food waste isn’t such a easy matter. One problem can have many potential solutions, all with different ramifications.

Want to read the whole article?

http://wastewise.be/2014/06/untangling-behavioural-drivers-behind-food-waste/

Don’t create waste in your effort to curb food waste

Reducing food waste in the home often means learning to store foods in ways that they will keep longer, unfortunately this often means using foil, plastic wrap or other disposables or plastics in order to seal in freshness. So what are the alternatives? Reducing food waste isn’t that impressive if all you do is increase waste in another category. Of course there are glass jars and containers, but what about when you need a replacement for the ever so practical plastic cling wrap? Well one option would be these fun looking CoverBubbles.

coverblubbercoverblubbercoverblubber

Or go the even greener DIY route and make your own alternative using fabric and beeswax. It’s easier and faster than you might think, and you can use it over and over again!

DIY food wrap

Instructions can be found at onegoodthingbyjillee.com

Mediterranean Manifesto against food waste

Organic waste is being addressed in Mediterranean nations as a group of experts created and signed a manifesto outlining strategies for transforming food waste management in the region. The document acknowledges reduction as the priority in dealing with organic waste, but also selective collection and recycling, redefinition of infrastructures, regional cooperation and monitoring, communication, and sharing of good practices.

The Manifesto was created  by a working group of stakeholders and experts in the field of bio-waste and waste management through SCOW (Selective Collection of Organic Waste in tourist areas) at a technical workshop hosted by BCNecologia on February 25, 2015. The Manifesto is open for signatures by Mediterranean stakeholders such as businesses, NGOs and politicians or individuals. The project is funded in a large part by the European Union through the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument.

The project seeks to define a creative and sustainable management system for organic waste, which will involve a collection and recycling system that is inexpensive, technically simple and of high quality (including the creation of small scale composting plants located near the areas where the waste is produced and the finished compost can then be used). The Manifesto is major step toward improving policy, and hopefully it translates to successful cooperation and a real commitment to improving waste management impacting policy in Mediterranean states.

Read more at:

http://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2015/03/european-experts-sign-a-manifesto-in-barcelona-to-boost-a-new-model-of-food-waste-management/

Additional info, and the full Manifesto is available at:

http://www.biowaste-scow.eu/Manifesto-for-food-waste-managment