Reducing food waste is a win-win solution for everyone as less food goes to landfill and more food goes to those who need it. So what’s being done to make this a reality? And what can you do to help?
In 2020, New Zealand will vote in a general election with poverty and climate change sure to be at the top of the list.
There are thousands of people struggling every day to make ends meet in New Zealand: 800 Aucklanders are experiencing homelessness; 254,000 kids are living in poverty nationwide; and more than 7% of households are living with insufficient food. Issues like child poverty are so dire that last year, parliament passed the Child Poverty Reduction Act in a historic show of political agreement.
And climate change? What once felt like an interminably distant issue now feels more urgent than ever. Our summers are hotter, our winters more extreme, and for some, entire homelands are facing extinction. Last month, that urgency came to a head when thousands of students took to the streets to demand world leaders take concrete action to limit further global warming.
There’s a lot that needs to be done to tackle these issues: we need better housing, fewer cars, more efficient healthcare, and less reliance on fossil fuels. There’s no one-stop solution for fixing either problem, but one of the easiest ways to altruistically contribute to not just one but both these issues is to waste less food.
In New Zealand, studies have shown that the average household throws away three shopping trolleys worth of edible food a year. That’s 157,398 tonnes (or $1.17 billion worth) of avoidable food going straight to landfill. There, it’ll decompose and release methane – a harmful greenhouse gas which by some measures is 25-30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. On a global scale, more than $1.2 trillion worth of food goes to landfill every year, contributing approximately 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
But emissions from food waste don’t just stop there. As Jenny Marshall, project manager for Love Food Hate Waste points out, wasting food means all those other emissions that were generated to produce the food in the first place (things like transporting that food from the distributor to the supermarket, and all the energy used in growing it) essentially go to waste as well.
“That’s why if we look at the full life cycle of food, it’s not just about the emissions from putting it in the landfill,” she says. “It’s about the emissions created by production, by transportation, and by its distribution.”
“The other thing about food waste, particularly food waste from supermarkets or the farming and manufacturing sector, is that when that food goes to landfill instead of being given to people to be fed, there’s a social impact to that as well.
“This is why [food waste] is a problem we should really be focusing on in New Zealand, helping to solve both an environmental issue and a social issue.”
According to the latest Child Poverty Monitor, one in five children under the age of 15 (which amounts to between 161,000 and 188,000 children) in New Zealand experience moderate-to-severe food insecurity, meaning they can’t count on having regular nutritious meals. And while the amount of food New Zealand’s 300 supermarkets waste pales in comparison to how much the country’s 1.4 million households send to landfill every year, it’s supermarkets that play one of the biggest roles in helping to provide nutritious meals to charitable organisations.
“We donate the equivalent of 5.8 million meals a year through food rescue organisations to people in the community,” says Foodstuffs sustainability programme manager Mike Sammons. “And if it’s not fit for human consumption – i.e. trimmings off vegetables, fresh food that’s not in a state to be donated – it’ll normally go to animal stock feed. And if we don’t have an animal stock feed taker, it’ll go to compost.”
“The idea is that no food fit for human consumption ever goes to waste and that no food waste – whether it’s fit for human consumption or not – goes to landfill at all.”
“Supermarket staff really want that food to go to food donation first before it goes to compost or stock feed,” adds Francesca Goodman-Smith, Foodstuffs’ waste minimisation manager and author of a 2018 report outlining the state of supermarket food waste in New Zealand.
“Supermarket staff feel really empowered by being able to donate the food to people in need.”
Previously, one of the biggest obstacles for regularly donating food was the lack of logistical support. But as awareness around food waste and insecurity has grown over the years, several not-for-profit food rescue organisations have popped up in New Zealand to help relay those goods to those who need it. In Auckland, Foodstuffs supermarkets like New World and Pak’nSave have partnered with KiwiHarvest who collect and distribute food to local charities. Similarly, down in Canterbury, food rescue group City Harvest has collaborated with several New World supermarkets to help distribute more than a million meals to community organisations.
“Nowadays, we source more than 90% of our food from supermarkets,” says Matt Dagger, general manager of Wellington-based food rescue group Kaibosh. “We used to get food from cafes and restaurants but now we just really focus on the delivery of big volumes of food and that tends to come from supermarkets, logistical companies, factories, and orchards.”
Getting food from these sources also means being able to focus on delivering fresh produce which, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, tend to be the first to be replaced by canned and packaged goods (Foodstuffs says that fruit, vegetables and bread already make up the bulk of what gets donated).
“We’re getting healthy, nutritious food to families that are struggling,” says Dagger. “As an organisation, we have a strategic goal that at least 70% of the food we redistribute is fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy [because] these are the first things that drop off people’s shopping lists when they’re facing hardship.”
If there’s one turning point we can look to when it comes to donating food, it’s probably the Food Act which was passed by Parliament back in 2014. As part of this new legislation, a “good Samaritan” clause was introduced to protect businesses who donate their food in good faith. That means that a donor is “protected from civil and criminal liability that results from the consumption of food” as long as the food is safe and suitable at the time or being donated, and that any information on how to keep the food safe is provided by the donor at the time (i.e: use-by dates).
“It was a game changer when that legislation was adopted,” recalls Dagger. “The supermarkets, factories etc all came on board. Previously, they just didn’t have that confidence [to donate food], and fair enough too – if you’re a food business and your primary motivation is to make a profit, part of that is your own risk management.
“Once the food leaves the food donors, it’s kind of out of their control what happens to it, so we had to give them the reassurance that we’ll look after it safely and that if anything should happen, they’ll actually be legally safe.”
“The Good Samaritan act made it easier; it gave retailers the confidence that they’re protected when they donate fresh food,” adds Goodman-Smith. “It’s really enabled more stores to do what they’ve wanted to do and donate their fresh produce – which is nutrient-dense – for people to eat.”
Which is great, because now more than ever, consumers are demanding their businesses not only contribute positively to the economy but to society as well. They want them to be socially conscientious, environmentally aware, and a force for good in their communities and the world. They don’t want their supermarkets throwing perfectly good food in the bin, much in the same way they don’t want them using unnecessary single-use plastic.
Wasting less food allows businesses to save money. After all, “stores are in the business of selling affordable food”, says Sammons, “so producing waste is inefficient”. Therefore, there’s no excuse not to take more action. That applies to all New Zealanders, all businesses, and all policymakers as well.
Right now, the government is taking steps in the right direction: parliament’s Environment Select Committee recognises that food waste is a major issue and is calling on organisations and individuals to submit their recommendations. While this isn’t a formal inquiry, it allows the government to further understand what challenges there are and what solutions might exist. Because when it comes to food waste, it’s clear that businesses are leading the way – now we just need our political leaders to catch up and do the same.
Tips on how to reduce food waste
It’s not just businesses that benefit from reducing food waste, but individual households as well. Because unlike most environmentally friendly solutions (switching to an electric car, buying sustainably made clothing etc), reducing food waste involves no extra cost. In fact, for many households, it actually cuts costs since you don’t have to constantly spend money buying more food.
So, what can we (i.e. you and I) do not only to help the planet but help ourselves? Jenny Marshall from Love Food Hate Waste has some tips:
Take a photo of your fridge
Before going grocery shopping, you should always check your fridge to see what you already have. “A tip that I give people is to take a photo on your phone of the inside of your fridge,” says Marshall. “That way, you can build meals around what you already have. Focusing on what needs to be used up is a great way to reduce food waste.”
Be innovative with recipes
If you’ve got a bunch of vegetables about to expire, soups and stir-fries are one of the most efficient ways to use up a ton of ingredients in one go. Websites like Love Food Hate Waste are super helpful for getting ideas on how to cook leftover, over-ripened, or wilting food: a rice-crusted quiche for leftover rice, banana and chocolate ice cream for bruised bananas, and a green dip which is great for wilting veggies.
Learn how to store food properly
Storing food at its most optimal condition means it’ll last for as long as possible. When it’s hot and humid, store things like bread in the fridge instead of the pantry. Same with fruits like nectarines and peaches, which will ripen instantly in a fruit bowl. “There are also some vegetables that don’t need to go in the fridge,” says Marshall. “Aubergines, tomatoes and peppers are actually better at room temperature. So have a vegetable bowl rather than a fruit bowl in the summer.”
Ask for a takeaway bag
Instead of leaving half your untouched plate at a cafe or restaurant where it’ll get tossed out, ask for a ‘doggy bag’, says Marshall. “There’s no health and safety rule that says you can’t give someone a doggy bag,” she says. “Many [restaurants and cafes] do this, but not all of them. As New Zealanders we’re all a bit shy, so quite often people won’t ask for a doggy bag. But I think restaurants and cafes should be more proactive in offering them. Not only is it good customer service, but if someone really enjoyed the meal and they have the opportunity to take it home, they might take it to work the next day for lunch and someone might ask, ‘oh, that looks really good – where did you get that from?’ And that’s free word-of-mouth publicity.”
This article was created in paid partnership with New World. Learn more about our partnerships here.
This content is brought to you by your friends at New World. Travel the globe from your dinner table with our new internationally-inspired Flavours of the World recipes.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.