Recycling Food Waste

Facts and figures

In Europe, up to 30% of food is wasted, generating 89 million tonnes of food waste every year (179kg per person) and contributing to 17% of greenhouse gases – a huge carbon footprint! This waste is produced at every stage of the food chain: in farms, homes, shops and supermarkets, manufacturers, restaurants, offices and hospitals. Even perfectly edible food is thrown away, for instance because fruit and vegetable do not have the right look or size to be displayed. In the meantime, 79 million people in Europe live below the poverty line. The situation is the same – or even worse – in other developed countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Food waste brings also an ethical dimension: With 850 million people undernourished in the world, the situation is made even more shocking. Thrown-away food not only represents a huge waste of money, it has significant economic, environmental and social impacts.

The European Commission aims to reduce food waste by 50% by 2020 – a key issue to achieve a resource-efficient EU.  
 
Managing food waste meets two main objectives:

  • Saving money
  • Helping the environment

Causes

Lean Path, an American company providing automated food waste tracking systems to the hospitality and catering industry, makes a difference between pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste (food discarded after it has been served).
Pre-consumer food waste (harvest, storage, transport, distribution, display, preparation waste such as bones, fruit stones, vegetable peelings, egg shells, etc.) involves waste due to overproduction, transport, criteria and selection (misshapen items), spoilage, contamination, etc.
Post-consumer food waste comprises of leftovers and scraps, unused food items, and this may be attributed in part to individual behaviour: or lack of understanding of label information (“Best before”, “Use by”, “Display until”), lack of planning and estimating, or even lack of cooking skills to re-use leftovers.
 
The carbon footprint left by food waste is seen at every level, from the production (agriculture or farming) to the distribution (processing, packaging, preservation, logistics, etc.).
 
Acting

There is a plethora of initiatives to minimise food waste, which could be summarised as such:

  • Reduce: Reducing food waste means, whether at corporate or individual level, changing consumers’ behaviour i.e. planning and managing better, favour local products, ameliorate storage and stock management, improve packaging and label information. The reduction also saves land, fuel, chemicals and water.
  • Re-use: This involves donations for instance to shelters or food banks, animal rescues, and redistribution for industrial use (for instance to be transformed into animal feed). Charity initiatives have enabled the use of food that would have been otherwise discarded for being too close to the “best before end” date; worldwide events such as “Feed the 5,000”, a banquet made out of food designed for waste have rolled out from London, Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Sydney and Nairobi. “United against Food Waste” is also one of the European events uniting both industries and customers in the fight against food waste. Some European countries such as Austria, Italy, Denmark, Spain, etc. have dynamic food bank programmes using the excess food from supermarkets.
  • Recycle: As 75% of food waste is water, dehydration reduces waste volume by 90%, making it easier to transport and recycle. The most common recycling use for biodegradable waste is compost; however, thanks to new technologies there are “niche” usages like “vermiculture” (producing food for poultry, fish etc.), or the development of biofuels. Food companies or big food users such as hospitals and hotels for instance are learning to make money out of their waste, selling to compost haulers, biofuel businesses, etc.

Since 2006, many European countries are collecting domestic food waste with garden waste or separately in kitchen caddies. This waste will become compost, no longer saturating landfills and instead contributing to the European 2020 targets in reducing greenhouses gases.

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