On Food Waste, Tax Credits and “Innovation”

The National Zero Waste Council is proposing a tax credit to corporations when they donate food to charities. This tax credit is meant to encourage food donation.

In her article, “Donating ‘edible waste’ to food banks in exchange for tax credit? Now that’s a rubbish idea”, Valarie Tarasuk discusses some of the implications of this tax credit on food security. She emphasizes that this credit system does nothing to challenge the systemic issues contributing to food insecurity and food bank use in the first place. She concludes that things like affordable housing and paying a living wage will do much more for food insecure households than essentially giving corporations a pat on the back.

Let’s add to this discussion through a food waste lens. Hopefully the simple discussion below helps to challenge the way you think about the issue.

The argument for the tax credit is: donating isn’t free. Companies still have to get their product to the organization and that has labour and transportation costs associated with it. Give a tax credit and you will incentivize companies to divert food directly to organizations in need. Sounds fair enough right? Well, hold up a second critics are saying.

Here is the thing: waste removal isn’t free either. And companies know this. Corporations already have to buy into the waste system to dispose of their surplus product. They may send it through a reclamation company, or they may offload it into the dumpster at the end of the night. Either way, there is a price to pay.

So why is it ok to pay corporations for something they are already considering in their cost of operations?

And before you say it, no, this isn’t a case where we just need to pick the lesser of two evils (although that is an understandable response to a complicated issue). This tax credit is not an innovative waste management idea. Moving forward with a tax credit like this incentivizes the status quo, and we certainly don’t need more of that.

If you think about it more, why do we not instead expect that companies pay organizations to take their surplus off their hands in the same way they do waste management and reclamation companies? Instead of a tax credit, invest in supporting real innovative linkages between organizations and companies.

Thanks to The Bad Apples for their thoughts and insights leading in to this post.

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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/

“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.

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/

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

Arash Derambarsh bringing the French food waste ban to the EU

The French councillor, Arash Derambarsh, the man behind the legislative change in France which requires supermarkets to donate excess food, has continued to ride the momentum of success and media to try to bring the initiative to the EU. The proposed amendment calls on the European commission to “promote in member states the creation of conventions proposing that retail food sector distribute their unsold products to charity associations” On July 9, MEPs included the food waste amendement last minute as a part of an adopted resolution on the “circular economy”. Derambarsh hopes to have the issue of food waste tabled at the United Nations later this year. The new legislation in France sparked some debate as to if this is really the  best way to combat waste, or if it is a well meaning, but misguided move. So while food waste should be on the EU agenda, should it be so quick to support this particular tactic, before the consequences in France have even been seen?

In May Arash Derambarsh (centre) succeeded in persuading the French government to pass a law  forcing supermarkets to donate products near their sell-by date to charities.

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/07/campaign-to-cut-supermarket-food-waste-reaches-european-parliament

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/09/french-food-waste-councillor-calls-on-ec-supermarkets-law

What’s new in the EU

The European Commission has food waste on their radar, but their actions have been a bit difficult to read. Officially, the Commission is cracking down on food waste by promoting action through its Member States.  In 2011, the European Commission identified in the “Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe” that food was a key sector where resource efficiency should be improved, and sounded the call-to-arms on food waste.

In 2014, the Commission put forward objectives for food waste reduction in the EU including a proposal for Member States to create strategies with a target of food waste reduction by at least 30% by 2025 across sectors. European Parliament also declared 2014 the “year against food waste.” Despite these moves, critics like Belgian MEP Bart Staes (see his article here) argued that the Commission had switched gears and was dragging its feet in creating solid policy.

The biggest evidence of this change in pace with the Commission is that the promised publication, “Building a Sustainable European Food System,” which was supposed to be released by early 2014 at the latest, remains unpublished despite non-profits (such as WWF) and a wide range of actors demanding its release.

In most recent developments, however, the European Commission has said that it is seeking to take a broader approach, and therefore released a public consultation on May 28 running until August 20 on its revised Circular Economy Package. This new package moves away from an “exclusive focus on waste management.” The new document does retain the goal that member states cut food waste by 30% by 2025, but broadens the focus from just food waste – which is good, so long as this doesn’t mean more cumbersome progress in creating policy by burying it among other connected issues. Eventually this package will involve a revised legislative proposal on waste and the creation of an action plan on the circular economy.

The consultation document is available here and the Roadmap for the initiative here.

For more information on the European Commission’s food waste initiatives and the Circular Economy Package:

http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu_actions/index_en.htm

http://resource.co/article/circular-economy-consultation-out-tomorrow-10161

http://resource.co/article/ec-launches-public-consultation-circular-economy-package-10167