Food waste scandal
Every year Kiwis sling 20 million loaves of bread in the bin that don’t have to go to waste. The average family chucks away 79kg of food we could have eaten, making a $560 dent in the annual household budget. Across New Zealand, this adds up to $827m a year.
These are just a few statistics from the latest New Zealand Food Waste Audits report from WasteMinz.
“The main issue is that people don’t realise how much they are throwing away and how much it’s costing them,” says Jenny Marshall, standard bearer for action group Love Food Hate Waste New Zealand. “Once they become aware, we see a significant change in behaviour.”
Bread is the most common culprit, with the warm and humid Auckland climate often making a loaf mouldy long before it is finished. Jenny’s suggestion is freeze half the loaf to keep it fresh. “Actually I usually freeze the whole loaf and just defrost what I need,” she says.
But while bread is the most bulky, the top culprit for making a hole in the family purse is chicken. It is among the most common food thrown out and the higher cost increases the impact. “People are concerned about chicken kept too long, and cooked leftovers.” she asks. “The financial impact is really high.”
Again, simple changes can make a difference. When you buy meat, instead of storing it in the fridge, freeze and defrost in the morning. That way, if plans change one evening you aren’t throwing out good food.
Even if you can afford it, the environment can’t. Every time we throw food in the refuse sack, we are tossing away all the energy and resources that delivered it to us including fuel, packaging and potentially precious water.
The food waste research involved household surveys and also delved into weekly rubbish to discover exactly what we chuck out. The list is surprisingly long, with a top 20 including bananas, bread, potatoes, poultry, oranges, carrots, eggs, broccoli and avocados.
“We compare better than the UK,” Jenny says. “But compared to other countries we don’t do so well.” UK families waste almost half as much food again as Kiwis. But in Singapore food waste is less than half.
Dr Miranda Mirosa, a consumer food scientist from the University of Otago, has been involved in food waste research. “We often fall back on buying what we know,” she comments. “Of course we can change. It may be as simple as slowing down, making a list. They seem small trivial things but if everybody does it, it can have a meaningful impact.”
Jenny Marshall points to Denmark, a country with a similar size population to New Zealand. There, a public campaign has already reduced food waste by 25%.
Closer to home, action is on the rise and not just in the bread department. Auckland Chef Ben Barton has used ingredients we would normally throw away to rustle up a delicious menu. Tuatara brewery is taking waste from the beer-making process and turning it into gourmet crackers. Countdown has been partnering with food charities.
Jenny Marshall describes Love Food Hate Waste NZ as; “About helping families save money and minimising our impact on the environment.”
The campaign has been embraced by 55 councils around the country. Everyone is a volunteer working in addition to their normal day job. They are passionate about making a difference, not only to the environment but to families who are struggling to make ends meet.
Auckland Council is part of the campaign, and is going one step further by separating food waste with the introduction of a region-wide organic food waste collection service, so it can be recycled. And if households have to separate out food waste, it is easier to realise what is being thrown away.
Waste not tips Buy less and shop more often. Food is fresher and more likely to be used. Put some bread in the freezer until you need it. Instead of dishing up a meal, put the dish in the middle and allow family members to help themselves. Freeze meat and only defrost in the morning of the day you are going to cook it.
Food about to be weighed: A Wasteminz survey of household food waste includes weighing the discarded food each week.
Average avoidable food: The average household throws out $10 worth of food each week. All photos of food waste came out of people’s bins.
Bread 7.5kg: The average New Zealand family throws out 7.5 kilos of bread each year.