Europe in My Region

October 16th was World Food Day, so it’s the perfect time to bite into the topic. Wasting food is a major global problem. So, are there any ways to solve it?

This is a repost of Marnowanie jedzenia – jak rozwiązać ten problem?, originally published by Janusz Mizerny (Facebook, Instagram, Google+) after the European Week of Regions and Cities, which he attended as one of the three Winners of the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition.

For some time now, we’ve been preoccupied with the problem of food waste, or (more generally) biowaste management — in fact, we’ve already written about the concept of zero waste. So when we were at the European Week of Regions and Cities (which was our prize, in case you didn’t know), we attended a fascinating session devoted to the problem of food waste. So, what did we find out?

Food Waste Statistics

According to the FAO, as much as one third of all food in the world is wasted at various stages of production and use. This translates into a loss of some 1.3 billion tons of food every year. In the EU alone, 88 million tons of food worth 143 billion euros is wasted, with each European wasting on average 150–173 kilos of food per year. Yes, really!

The French recently made a detailed study of their own domestic situation. Results showed that they waste 10 million tons of food products a year, losing 16 billion euros. The percentages stack up as follows: 32% of food waste is generated in production, 21% during various kinds of processing, 14% in transport, and 33% at the consumption stage.

We are all responsible for wasting food / Source:
We are all responsible for wasting food / Source:

As for us Poles, we are (unfortunately) among Europe’s biggest food wasters, coming in 5th place behind Great Britain, Germany, France and Holland. According to the Polish Food Banks Federation, the average Pole wastes one third of all purchased food (52 kg), which gives a nationwide total of 9 million tonnes. The most commonly wasted food types are cold meats (43%), bread (36%), vegetables (32%) and fruit (27%).

All this means that wasting food has a huge impact on the environment. Up to 8% of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming come from wasting food. What’s more, 30% of all farmland in the world produces food that ultimately ends up in the waste bin. Even worse, growing the wasted food consumes 25% of all water used in agriculture!

Fortunately, there are ways of limiting food waste. Of course, zero food waste would be a Utopian and probably unattainable goal, but we can set more realistic yet still ambitious goals.

Why Do We Waste Food?

There are a great many reasons. The problems start with food production itself — after all, crops might get damaged or contaminated during harvesting, and the more processing that is required, the more waste that is likely to be generated. Transport also produces waste — not only do products have to be stored correctly (e.g. refrigerated), but it is also easy for things to get crushed, cracked open or spilled, and thus wasted.

We, the consumers, are also guilty, because we buy too much food. They say the first bite is with the eye, and it shows in the volume of our groceries. Even worse, we are easily swayed by special offers (get 3 for the price of 2!), so we stock up and believe we’re saving money. But all too often, we are actually losing money, as the extra food is thrown away uneaten.

With a fridge packed so full, wasting food is highly likely / Source:
With a fridge packed so full, wasting food is highly likely / Source:

Once food is in the house, we will often cook too much and after two days nobody wants to eat the same thing again, so we throw it away. Sometimes things get pushed to the back of the fridge, and we only find them days or weeks later — and so the forgotten yoghurt or cottage cheese lands in the bin, because it’s now past its best before date.

When cooking, we don’t really consider the amount of waste we generate. Carrot tops, radish leaves, apple peels — all are treated as waste and thrown away, instead of being used to make more, tasty food.

So it’s all about being aware of the environmental impact of wasting food and caring about the planet. And, of course, there is the desire for self-improvement and determination to cut down on waste. How can we do this?

Brussels Implements the Good Food Programme

The session Towards the circular economy: local and regional solutions to food waste presented an interesting programme aimed at reducing food waste. It is called Good Food and will be implemented in the Brussels region. So what are its goals?

The Good Food Strategy aims to curb food waste in the Brussels region / Source: Good Food
The Good Food Strategy aims to curb food waste in the Brussels region / Source: Good Food

The main goal of this comprehensive programme is to reduce food waste by 30% by 2020. In addition it aims to support sustainable food production both in agriculture and among the citizens themselves. The region’s government wants to see the surface area of gardens used for food production double, so that by 2020, 30% of households will grow their own food.

Eliminating food waste right at the source is a priority, as is providing a collection and recycling system for unsold produce. Special containers for uneaten restaurant meals will also be promoted, dubbed rest-o-packs. Another aim is to oblige all supermarkets in the Brussels region to collaborate with at least one organization that manages unused food (e.g. a food bank).

Brussels Leads by Example

Various educational measures are, of course, a vital feature. People in and around Brussels will have access to cookery workshops demonstrating how to utilize food products to their full extent while minimizing waste. Teaching people to use local and seasonal products is also an important change of mindset.

Workshops during the Good Food programme / Source: Maîtres Frigo Facebook page
Workshops during the Good Food programme / Source: Maîtres Frigo Facebook page

Interestingly, 9 restaurants have already joined the Good Food programme, all taking the idea of eliminating food waste very seriously. Their menus feature meals made from waste products, such as peelings, or parts usually discarded in the kitchen, such as tops or leaves. You can use these to make vegetable stock or sometimes even a complete dish (e.g. soup).

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try these delicacies during our stay in Brussels, though not for want of trying — we simply didn’t expect all restaurants to close at 3 p.m. (yes, really). Even so, the Good Food concept really appeals to us. It’s only been a few months, so it’s still too early to say if the Brussels region will achieve all its stated programme goals, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Buying only visually perfect vegetables means wasting food / Source:; Photo: Peter Wendt
Buying only visually perfect vegetables means wasting food / Source:; Photo: Peter Wendt

How Can We Reduce Food Waste at Home?

While waiting for promising and ambitious programmes such as the one in Brussels to spread (hopefully to our country as well), we can all start reducing food waste on a smaller scale, right at home. How? Here are some basic tips to start with:

  • Use each product in its entirety, for example using peelings to make vegetable stock or fruit compotes (and we can confirm that apple and pear peels can also simply be eaten).
  • Don’t be afraid to buy ugly or funny-looking fruits and vegetables (though you should never buy mouldy ones) — a crooked carrot is still a carrot.
  • Think ahead — make a list of what you really need, and avoid buying unnecessary items.
  • Get used to cooking using what you already have in the fridge — if you’re stuck for recipe ideas, Google is your friend.
  • Prepare only as much food as you will actually eat.
  • If you have food left over, use it later — you can easily have the same meal the next day, modify it slightly and make a different dish, or freeze it and use it later.
  • Don’t automatically throw away products that are past their best before date — if the packaging is not damaged and was stored as specified by the manufacturer, and the product itself looks, smells and tastes normal, you can safely eat it (this applies, e.g. to pasta, rice, flour, tinned foods, chocolate, or frozen products).
  • Strictly observe use by dates on products that spoil quickly, such as meat, fish and dairy products (though yoghurt is usually safe to eat even after this date).
  • If you run a bakery, a greengrocer’s or a supermarket (less likely, I know), consider your options for donating unsold but still edible products to food banks.
Food waste in grocery shops is, regrettably, commonplace / Source: The Guardian
Food waste in grocery shops is, regrettably, commonplace / Source: The Guardian

At the risk of sounding patronizing, the simple fact is that we should respect food. Always remember that one in nine people on Earth has too little food to lead a normal life. Well? Have we convinced you to try and reduce food waste? Are you ready to enjoy that old yoghurt lurking in the back of your fridge?

Sources: Presentations during the EUWRC session Towards the circular economy (…), WRI, Good Food Strategy, Nie Marnuj Jedzenia (Don’t Waste Food) 2016 report

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