According to the CSIR and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s “Food waste prevention and management – A Guideline for South Africa”, Johannesburg residents on average, throw away 12kgs of food per person per year. In Ekurhuleni each person disposes of 8kgs of food into municipal bins – and that is just two areas of our country.
Even worse, the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 Food Waste Index states that globally 931 million tonnes of food are thrown away every year. Most of that figure, 569 million tonnes, falls under household waste with the food service and retail sectors accounting for a further 244 and 118 million tonnes, respectively. On a per capita basis - the average global household wastes 74kg of food each year. What exacerbates this situation even further is that, according to the Waste Index, if food loss and waste were a country, this country would be the 3rd biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet…
Food waste is a serious problem. Never mind the fact that much of this wasted food is never consumed or used and simply ends up in landfills, adding further pressure to an already over-extended system in South Africa. But this excessive waste surely must be addressed given how many people go hungry each day in our own country. However, it seems that while household food waste is very high, much of waste happens in the food production process. A study funded by the Department of Science and Innovation, stated that 68% of food wastage unfolds in the early stages of production and 49% during process and packaging.
This means a lot of stakeholders must get involved to help solve this problem, especially if we consider that the South African government has signed up to SDG 12.3 to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. And yes, many retailers and food producers are examining ways in which to minimise food waste or re-use food waste in better, more needed areas as not only is it the right thing to do but it fundamentally impacts bottom line and sustainability over time. Food wastage has implications on our economy, water and food security and of course directly impacts climate change by increasing the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere. As such, there is no better time that now for producers and consumers to consider the circular economy in the food chain and how we can turn food waste into something good – like green energies for example, just imagine the potential of food being turned into an alternative energy source to solve one of South Africa’s most pressing issues – power supply?
This means we need to all start thinking differently about food waste, how we produce it, how we dispose of it and how much of it we actually need, to make an impact and avoid unnecessary waste.
Should business and retailers be collaborating with different companies to manage their waste – not merely to dispose of it correctly – but distribute food, that is still good for consumption to people that need it? Should retailers be offering a large array in terms of food choices to consumers – does this not contribute to waste? – do we buy our old favourites or try new things – and if we want to try something new, should a wide range be available? And should we be looking to buy from more specialists or niche stores – like green grocers, butchers and bakeries – where fresh on-the-day specials are available – would this cut down production waste?
We of course don’t have all the answers, but we do know that there is more to be done as a collective society by making better, more informed choices, and by challenging our business partners and customers to do the same. Maybe think about this with your own network and challenge your own business and its partners to start an organic waste on-site composter to manage organic and wet waste – small actions can have big results.
The reality is that this is a massive problem – we can’t sit back and do nothing, we all have an opportunity to do something, and it starts with small steps.