Reducing Food Waste in Korea

In 2013, Korea brought into effect the Marine Environment Management Act, banning the disposal of food waste water into the ocean in order to comply with the London Convention. With this new law came a serious crack-down on food waste in Korea. In a small and densely populated country, and one where the standard of living has grown so quickly, waste was becoming a serious problem. New systems were put in place, and now the significance of such changes can be seen.

Residents were accustomed to a pay-as-you-go system for waste, but in 2013  this changed from a flat collection rate to a pay-by-weight system  for food waste. This was put in place for residents, but also businesses and restaurants.

In parts of Seoul, smart disposal systems were implemented where individuals were given ID cards that are scanned before the waste is dropped into waste bins and weighed. In other areas, residents must purchase specific bags that are priced by volume.

“SK Telecom, Korea’s largest wireless carrier, has designed RFID food waste bins with equipment that will weigh food waste to the nearest gram. Photo: KIM GYONG HO / JEJUWEEKLY.COM”

In the neighborhoods where  the smart disposal system has been implemented, Seoul has seen a 30% decrease in food waste.  Filmmaker Karim Chrobog has created a short documentary on the changes in South Korea as part of the e360 video series “Wasted” (the whole thing is worth watching). To get a bigger picture of the changes, you can watch the video here.

For residents, this strict regulation has created incentives to lower waste (or learn some small scale composting skills!), but some might argue that it is excessively strict. No one can argue, however, that it hasn’t made a difference: in a relatively short amount of time, waste in neighbourhoods with a pay-by-weight system decreased their food waste by 30%. Not only is the waste being reduced by consumers, the collected waste is not headed for landfill but for animal feed, fertilizer, or conversion to electricity. These laws also target waste across multiple sectors, in contrast to, for instance, the recent law in France requiring only large supermarkets to donate excess edibles to charities. It’s possible too that, as mentioned in the film, food retailers and restaurants concerned with their bottom line will do more to reduce waste, but also might make more of an effort to connect with charities for the waste that still remains. The changes made in Korea do involve high costs and technology as well as some ‘tough love’ – laying down a stricter system – but it seems to be getting the desired results!

For more on how Korea’s Ministry of Environment is tackling food waste check out:

http://www.asiatoday.com/pressrelease/south-koreas-food-waste-solution-you-waste-you-pay

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/27/food-waste-around-world

http://www.earth911.com/food/south-korea-charging-for-food-waste/

Advertisements

ZeroFly storage

While in Canada the biggest portion of food waste comes from the household level, in much of the developing world most waste occurs before it even reaches the market or household. Part of the reason for this is  due to problems with storage. Grains and produce can be lost due to improper storage conditions causing spoilage, but also due to animals or insects. To combat insect pests, the Swiss company Vestergaard has created an innovative storage solution: the ZeroFly storage bag.

ZeroFlyStorageBagBrochureApril2015 1

The bag is polypropylene treated with an insecticide to stop insects from damaging agricultural products. While some may be hesitant about using an insecticidal bag,compared to other methods of preventing or killing pests, this bag leaves less pesticide residue while protecting the grain within from infestation. This product and similar innovations can potentially reduce losses for farmers, improving food security and decreasing food waste.

Find out more about the ZeroFly storage bags from Vestergaard.

Hope for the end of food waste

Sometimes it’s all too easy to feel like an issue is too big or beyond ourselves. Environmental issues often fall into this as they can feel disconnected or beyond the scope of the individual consumer.

I’m not trying to get people down, but rather to take heart in something I like about studying food waste. In this case, the huge environmental (and social, and economic) problem is very much one of which the average consumer is a part: that is the beauty of the issue. According to a report from last year, 47% of food waste in Canada is created at the household level, making it the largest sector, as can be seen in the chart.

VCMC - Fig. 4.1

From the Value Chain Management Centre report:  “$27 Billion” Revisited

While I don’t mean to oversimplify (there are certainly structural changes which also need to occur), consumers do play a major role, as we can see from the fact that the majority of food waste occurs at the household level. The beauty of this is that we do have a great deal of power to change by altering our waste creation and disposal practices.

Perhaps I’m more talking to myself, but I think sometimes we need the sense that a difference can be made. Because so much of the waste occurs in the home, changing household behaviour can have an enormous impact. Consumers can reduce the amount of waste they create by adopting proper food storage or careful meal planning, but consumers can also create demand for less wasteful products, or buy products close to their best before date in order to cut down on retail waste. Even just being aware of food waste has shown to cut down on it.

I like to take heart in this,  that individuals have so much power in this area.  While consumers may feel overwhelmed by the need for systemic change, and it is important, I think it’s equally important to remember to start with the easy changes, including steps that de-normalize food waste. Food waste is complicated, but there are some areas of low hanging fruit, like starting with eating your leftovers and composting inevitable food scraps. The reality is that changing policy can make the food system more efficient, but that still won’t cut out food waste in homes, where so much of it occurs – that requires changes in consumer behaviour. And here’s where I think there’s so much potential: consumers have already been seen to produce less waste once they are conscious of it, and with the growing attention to our food and now the waste associated with it, I feel more confident that food waste is manageable and that we will start to see changes.

 

What kind of food you waste matters

Food waste is a problem, but among foods that are wasted, the environmental impacts of some are worse than others. One of the major problems with food waste is that all the resources and energy that go into creating food also are wasted if that food goes uneaten. So if you want to trim your food print, there are areas where your energies will have a bigger impact. The most significant is in the area of meat: while I won’t tell you to become vegetarian (though that could dramatically reduce your ecological  footprint), changing your food and waste habits with regard to meat is an area of great potential. While animal products make up a smaller portion of household food waste, the environmental impact of those products are significantly higher. In many ways reducing food waste fits in with many other aspects of ethical eating (for instance local or organic foods may have lower footprints as they travel shorter distances and may use fewer inputs).

For more info on your food’s ecological footprint:

http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/food-carbon-footprint-diet 

Food foodprint

Cooking to reduce waste

"The Waste Not Want Not Cook Book: Save Food, Save Money and Save the Planet" offers advice on how to store and serve different fruits and vegetables to prevent food from being wasted.

One of the primary issues with household food waste is that many home cooks have the best of intentions but lack the know-how to reduce waste in the kitchen. When performing surveys last summer, I often found that when I asked people how easy it would be for them to reduce their food waste, they often struggled to think of ways that this could be done. Improving kitchen skills in order to make less waste the norm can be helpful. The food waste that comes out of the kitchen is mostly avoidable, but avoiding waste requires some commitment and effort, at least until it becomes habit. To help with the practical and delicious side of cooking without waste, Cinda Chavich has created a new cookbook, Waste Not, Want Not Cook Book: Save Food, Save Money, Save the Planet.  Another new book is the Waste-free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders of the National Resource Defense Council. So if you’re keen to join the new green food trend of waste free cooking, you may want to check them out. My favourite way to save my groceries from rotting in the fridge is to use the  search tools on Food Gawker for recipes using those particular ingredients. Happy cooking!

Hear Chavich talk about food waste and her book here.

“Root to Leaf” cooking

I’m a big fan of kale, but I have to admit, I’m not the best at eating all of it. In fact I only recently found out that I could be eating all of it. My friend likes to cook the ribs in stir fry – he just gives them a head start so they aren’t as tough before tossing in the rest of the veggies. This has inspired me to look at what other parts of veggies I could and should be eating.

So I’ve made a totally subjective definitive ranking and list for beginning to take a “root to leaf” approach to your veggies. If you’ve mastered eating an apple without cutting off the nutritious peel, then please proceed to the next level, or totally ignore the levels and try any of them cause they’ll all help reduce waste. Maybe you think you are already a waste warrior – well perhaps, like me, you didn’t even realize some things were edible.

  • Beginner:  Mushroom stems; apple, carrot, and potato peels; broccoli stems and leaves; pumpkin seeds; chard stems
  • Intermediate: Asparagus ends; beet greens; turnip and radish greens; kale ribs; brussels sprout greens (may only be available if you have a garden, but they are a great substitute for collards)
  • Advanced: Corn silk; orange and lemon rinds; carrot greens; watermelon rind  (good for pickling)

Okay, so maybe you knew some of these were edible, but the problem is what do you actually do with them?  A good start is to simply leave the peels on when eating fruits or root vegetables (maybe just give them a good scrub). Another easy thing is to use scraps, stems and skins to make soup or stock. For me, my go-to meals with veggie bits would be soup, stir fry, and smoothies or juices (great for kale ribs or the inner stalk of pineapples – so good).

If you are looking for more inspiration, you can check out some recipes:

Creamy Asparagus Ends Soup

Carrot Top Pesto

Pickled Chard Stems

Sweet and Spicy Sautéed Kale Stems

Watermelon-Rind Chutney

Red Lentil Soup with Beet Greens

Looking for other veggie parts you could be eating? You can start your search here.

http://dontmesswithmama.com/10-vegetable-fruit-discards-can-actually-eat/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/02/fruits-and-vegetables-not-eating_n_4868505.html

 

The intricate web of food waste

food issue map

Designer Christina Amelie Jensen created this web to show the ‘issue space’ of food waste in the restaurant context. One can imagine how much more complex the web would become if it were to include other sectors. For instance, how would it change if it were looking at the household level? This web is useful for beginning to think about the many connected actors and processes that contribute to the creation and disposal of food waste.

Image from: http://designobserver.com/article.php?id=34178