NZ’s $872 million food secret

24 March 2015

With the amount of avoidable food rubbish we throw out around the country, we could be paying for a school lunch for every child in the country. Read on to hear about shopping smarter and what businesses can do to stop food waste.

According to the UN Environmental Programme, one third of food that is made for human consumption is wasted. And that waste is a waste – a waste of money, time, pesticides, fertilisers, fuel for transport and a waste of landfill space. Once it’s been purchased, wasted, and thrown out, rotting food breaks down in a landfill to release a potent greenhouse gas, methane, which is 23 times stronger than CO2.

The Waste Management Institute of NZ (WasteMINZ) is aiming to reduce avoidable food with the release of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. The programme, which arose out of a UK Government-funded organisation, attempts to highlight the importance of planning food purchases and meals, being smart about food storage and being creative with leftovers.

Over the last year and a half, WasteMINZ, who are coordinating the campaign, undertook research with 43 councils and looked into into more than 1400 household bins to come to terms with the issue. What they found was shocking.

In New Zealand, we chuck out more than 120,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste a year: things like whole apples, loaves of bread and half a cooked-up chook – food that could have, and should have, been eaten instead of lying forgotten at the back of your fridge, growing several varieties of mould. 120,000 tonnes could feed double the population of Dunedin for an entire year and respresents a $872 million spend on wasted food, money that could provide all school-aged children with lunches for three years.

Households waste an average of $563 a year on uneaten food – three shopping trolleys’ full. “It’s an issue which affects all of us, and with just a few small changes in behaviour, households can make a real dent in the amount of food they throw out, and ultimately save themselves money,” CEO of WasteMINZ, Paul Evans said on Campbell Live last week.

Bread was the food most likely to be wasted, accounting for ten per cent, or 20 million loaves of bread thrown, uneaten, into bins every year. Leftovers made up eight per cent of food wastage and fruit and vegetables were the other main culprits.

WasteMINZ sector group coordinator, Jenny Marshall, admits that the solution doesn’t just lie with families and individuals. Businesses also have a key role to play in giving consumer guidance about the best way to store their products. Hard blocks of cheese, for example, should be kept in an airtight container to avoid mould and bread should not be kept in the fridge as it goes off faster (you could, suggests Jenny, store half in the freezer and half in an bread bin).

WasteMINZ will also be talking to supermarkets, for example, about rethinking the way they package their ‘Buy two broccoli, get one free’ offers. “Why not encourage buyers to buy a range of products so you still get the cost saving, but you aren’t duplicating the product? It’s just as effective in terms of them increasing their sales, but it doesn’t have so much of an impact on food waste because they are encouraging people to buy different things.”

The campaign has the support of 60 councils around the country and numerous waste-focused community organisations. It will be fully rolled-out later this year.

Waste not:

  • Store food appropriately
  • Use your freezer to store cooked food if you aren’t going to eat it
  • When you buy a loaf, keep half of it in the freezer and keep half out for your sandwiches
  • Turn left over bread into croutons, bread crumbs or a Panzanella salad using old bread and seasonal tomatoes.
  • Think about how much food you are buying – make sure you aren’t buying too much
  • Make a list before you go shopping at the supermarket
  • Don’t get sucked in by 3 for 2 deals if you aren’t going to eat the food
  • Get creative with your leftovers! Head to Love Food Hate Waste’s website for some inspiration.
  • WasteMINZ is a support partner on SBN’s work stream on Accelerating the Circular Economy in New Zealand.
  • SBN has another work stream on Restoring New Zealand’s Food System. Find out more here.