Roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption globally each year is wasted. Every year, consumers in the rich world bin a quantity equivalent to the entire food production of Sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than producing more food to feed a growing population, many analysts argue that the solution is to use the food production we already have.
We had a comment sent in from Taylor, who blamed “shops and supermarkets” for throwing away “tonnes of perfectly good food for landfill while people are starving on the streets”. As a solution, Taylor suggested it would be better if supermarkets were obliged to donate food to the poor instead of throwing it away. Would that work?
Now, Europeans are not literally “starving on the streets”. The United Nations World Food Programme estimates 98 per cent of the world’s hungry live in developing countries (and, in fact, 65 per cent live in just seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia). Nevertheless, Eurostat indicates that food poverty (defined as the inability to afford a regular quality meal every second day) affected 8.6% of Europeans in 2015.
Isn’t it obscene to be wasting so much food while people are going hungry? Are supermarkets to blame, or are consumers the bigger problem? To get a response, we spoke to Toine Timmermans, Program Manager of Sustainable Food Chains at Wageningen University & Research Centre.
Taylor poses a very relevant question. Of course, supermarkets are at the centre of attention when it comes to food waste. If you look at the facts, however, retailers are by far the most efficient in the food chain. Meaning they have the lowest percentage of waste of all the different stakeholders in the supply chain, from producers to consumers. But because they are so visible, and because they are so important within the food chain, it’s a question often raised to them.
Basically, we looked at the figures across Europe, and 5% of total food waste occurs within the direct influence of a retailer. In total, in the EU-28, 88 million tonnes of food are wasted annually, and about 50% of that occurs in the home with the consumer. Taking that into account, the amount of food wasted by retailers is still incredibly high, and 80% of that is because the sell-by-date, best-before-date, or use-by-date has been passed. And there are no supermarkets that will sell expired food, even after the best-before-date. Technically, legally, they could do it – but they don’t.
The best option for retailers, then, is to donate products. It tends to be that most retailers only donate products that haven’t made it to shelves, that could not be distributed from their distribution centres to the stores. We see a trend, especially in the UK but also in other countries, that more and more products that cannot be sold are being donated to schemes such as food banks. But still, there is a lot of food that is not being sold or donated that will go to waste…
How can we stop Europeans throwing out so much food? Why do consumers throw so much food into the bin? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!