Food: Making the Most of It
Food waste is a big issue. While it can be a significant financial cost to us as individuals, it also has serious environmental, social and even moral implications.
Ireland was among 200 countries that signed up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. These goals include a specific commitment on food waste:
“By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including postharvest losses.”
So what is the problem of food waste?
The complex reasons for food waste, the scale of it, make this a tough problem to tackle. Food waste can arise for many reasons at various points in the food supply chain. For example, at the early stages of agricultural production, crops may be grown which are never harvested, or they may be harvested but wasted due to damage or fluctuations in demand. Retailers may throw away out of date or imperfect stock, and restaurants may throw away food left on plates by their customers. Householders can throw away food because they buy too much or don’t use it on time.
Businesses and householders may not be aware of the amount of the food waste they produce, and may not see that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Each group will have their own reasons for wasting food and have their own solutions for reducing it. Though the individual amounts may seem small, when added up the total volume of food waste produced in Ireland is unacceptable.
In Ireland, though we are rightly proud of the high quality food our farmers produce, we also generate over one million tonnes of food waste annually. The estimated annual cost is €3 billion. Producing food for our plates requires substantial resources. From the diesel in the tractor that first ploughs a field right through to the electricity being used by our fridges right now – the energy inputs are very significant. If you then consider the land-use; chemical-use and water-use involved, the overall environmental footprint of food production is truly staggering. This point is particularly pressing considering Ireland’s stated ambition to become a low-carbon economy, and our associated Greenhouse Gas targets for 2030 and 2050.
Tackling food waste at a national and community level
As a leader in green food production, Ireland can also lead the way in tackling food waste by creating and showcasing new and innovative solutions. Ireland can reduce the environmental impacts associated with food waste through preventing food waste, becoming more efficient in using what we have, and rescuing surplus food that cannot be prevented. An efficient food system would improve the financial performance of businesses and householders, and help those who struggle daily to put food on the table.
The fight against food waste needs a multi-pronged approach. Ireland already has many experiences and good practice examples to showcase.
Take the Stop Food Waste Challenge, a community based campaign. Through this programme communities are reducing their food waste by working together to learn and share ideas about reducing food waste.
Ireland’s Food Waste Charter is a collective industry commitment to reduce food waste along the entire supply chain. Many businesses in the food sector are signing up to the Charter and with help from the EPA, businesses all along the food chain are finding ways to measure food waste in a consistent way. Measuring and understanding waste data is an essential first step, helping to identify areas where improvements can be made and using the data to set realistic targets that can be measured.
Foodcloud is an innovative solution that connects businesses that have too much food with charities working in communities that have too little.
The EPA’s Stop Food Waste programme regularly runs national awareness campaigns highlighting the issues around food waste and providing practical tips to help us all reduce waste and make the most of our food.
As a nation, we can all be part of the solution to food waste. After all, we may all contribute to the issue more often than we think.
Tackling food waste at home
As well as wasted food in the supply chain, there is significant food wasted at consumer level - people either buy too much food or don’t use it in time. Many people are unaware of the amount of food they waste. One of the most important steps involved in reducing food waste is to know how much of it there is, where it is coming from and what it consists of.
If you’re concerned about the environment and have resolved to be a little greener this year, tackling your food waste is a good place to start. Reducing food waste offers simple and no cost actions that anyone can take. You don’t need to invest in expensive equipment before you start reaping the benefits. Remember, when it comes to reducing food waste you can stop throwing your money away!
Some of the most common types of food we throw away include meat and fish, dairy products, bread, and fruit and vegetables. Stop Food Waste has developed an A – Z of Foods, a handy resource that provides ingredient specific tips to make the most of these common food items that often go to waste. If every day each of us tries to reduce the amount of waste we dispose of, this has the potential to have a real impact.
Here are some tips to make small changes that can make a big difference:
• Storage – Make sure fruit and vegetables are stored in the correct place. If you are unsure where to store your items, just copy your local shop. They store their fruit and vegetables either on the shelf or in cold storage to preserve them for as long as possible.
• Examine - Use your own judgement when throwing out food. Use-by dates are for safety and should be followed, but best before dates are a guide. Labels, such as sell by and display until dates are used for stock control by shops and can be ignored by householders.
• Keep all dairy products in the fridge.
• Use your freezer - If you are not going to use meat or fish, freeze it, or cook it and eat it in the following days. Also, if you decide to use just some of it, freeze the rest.
• Use stock control - Supermarkets are smart and use stock control to reduce waste. Try this at home - you'll waste less and save yourself some cash.
• Investigate – Check your fridge, freezer and cupboards before you go shopping. Poke around at the back of your shelves; it’s surprising what you may find.
• Make a list – Not only will you remember the essentials, but this will also help keep your costs down.
• Get Creative – Plan meals around the ingredients you have at home. Dig out that old cookery book for inspiration or check out online recipes.
• Need some help? Consider getting a group together to take the Stop Food Waste Challenge in your area.
If you’re keen to live green and prevent waste at home visit http://www.epa.ie/livegreen/wasteprevention/ for more.