Australian National Food Waste Strategy: Defining the Problem and Setting Future Goals

22 November 2017 Mervyn Piesse, Research Manager, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

Background

The Australian Government launched the National Food Waste Strategy on 20 November. The strategy provides a framework to support efforts to halve the amount of food waste in Australia by 2030. It is estimated that Australia wastes more than 5.3 million tonnes of edible food a year. Most of the waste – 3.1 million tonnes – occurs at the household level, with the remainder wasted in the commercial and industrial sectors. In total, food waste is estimated to cost the Australian economy about $20 billion annually.

Comment

Addressing food waste is an important step in improving global food and water security. It is anticipated that food production will need to increase by 35 per cent by 2030 to meet additional demand; reducing food wastage will help to alleviate the need for increased production.

Food waste reduction policies have been implemented in parts of Europe and the United States. Large retailers in France, for instance, are obliged to donate unsold food that is approaching its best before date to charity or food banks or risk being fined. Major Australian food retailers, including Coles and Woolworths, already voluntarily assist food recovery organisations, however, legislation would standardise the practice. Laws that protect food donors, including businesses, from incurring civil liability already exist in all states and territories in Australia, making the barriers to food donation schemes very low.

Food waste is broadly defined in the strategy to include edible food, the parts of food that can be consumed but are disposed of, inedible food and the parts of food that are unable to be consumed or are undesirable. The strategy includes seeds, bones, coffee grounds, skins and peels in its definition of food waste. These inedible food waste products could be diverted from landfill and repurposed for other, more valuable use.

According to the strategy, an initial funding commitment of $1.3 million will support Food Innovation Australia Limited, an industry-led, government-funded agribusiness growth centre, to oversee the implementation of a food waste reduction plan and evaluate progress. A national food waste baseline that determines the location and amount of food that is being wasted will be established in late 2018. The Food Loss and Waste Protocol was released in 2016 and, ideally, the Australian baseline will be based on this protocol to align with international best practice and help facilitate global accounting of the problem. The baseline will help to establish the parts of the food supply chain that require the most attention to best reduce waste.

A voluntary commitment programme will be established by 2019. According to OzHarvest, an Australian food rescue organisation, however, Australia is at risk of lagging behind other countries in addressing the food waste challenge. It claims that retailers in the United Kingdom, US and Denmark already have voluntary commitments – some of which were adopted in 2005 – that are better funded and more widely accepted than those in Australia. There are ample opportunities for Australian policymakers to learn from the experiences of international food waste reduction strategies and apply them to the Australian context.

As some food will inevitably continue to be wasted, there is already a focus on diverting food waste from landfill. According to Josh Frydenberg, the Minister for Environment and Energy, 97 per cent of Australian food waste is sent to landfill. Over the time that this food decays, it will release 7.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Using food waste that would otherwise go to landfill for more useful applications will help to reduce the environmental effects of wasted food and recapture some of the resource cost of food production.

Waste hierarchy

Globally, food waste reduction is increasingly seen as an integral element of any effort to improve food security. The Australian National Food Waste Strategy is a strong first step in addressing Australian food waste. Future plans will outline strategies to avoid, reuse, recycle, reprocess and recover the resource costs of food waste.

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