1 Dec 2017

Grassroot initiatives for reducing food waste

Danielle writes*

Food waste is a huge problem, according to the FAO, worldwide 1/3 of the food is wasted. In the Netherlands, the average amount of food waste per person is 135 kilo per year.  Food waste is a problem happening on different scales and involves multiple actors, as visible in this infographic:
A Dutch initiative, Instock, prevents food waste as the meals they serve in their restaurant are prepared with products that cannot be sold in the supermarket anymore but are perfectly fine for eating. Products that are ‘rescued’ by Instock are for example overstocked, mislabeled, or have aesthetic flaws. Typical rescued products are one-day old bread and vegetables with a spot on them. Instock cooperates with Albert Heijn, food of around 150 regional supermarkets and distribution centres is collected, and transported to Instock with electrical vehicles.

Connected to overstocking is the issue of the legal expiration of products with a long storage life. Products packaged in e.g. cans are legally required to have a ‘best before’ date, after which supermarkets are forbidden to sell them, even though there is no risk to food safety. Dutch government is in the progress of expanding the lists of products that are not required to have a ‘best before’ date to reduce food waste.

A big part of the food waste that Instock uses, is caused by people’s unrealistic perception of how food should look like. Although the taste is the same, vegetables and fruits that do not look ‘perfect’ are less likely to be sold. Besides Instock, there is another Dutch initiative that tries to prevent the waste of food with aesthetic flaws. Kromkommer is a social enterprise that tries to raise awareness about and reduce unnecessary food waste due to overproduction and consumer’s preferences. Kromkommer produces soups of vegetables that do not meet the aesthetic requirements, which is applicable to around 10% of the produced vegetables.

For further progress, a cultural shift in perception towards food waste and leftovers is needed. The negative attitude towards using leftovers and ‘imperfect’ food is one of the challenges that initiatives like Instock and Kromkommer face and simultaneously are changing.

Interesting to note is that Instock does not pay for the rescued food, it would otherwise have been thrown away. Besides majorly using rescued food, Instock also limits their own food waste. Their ‘leftovers’ are eaten by staff, are donated or are used to make biogas.

A fellow student critically asked whether Instock is effective. She wondered whether the supermarket might take less action to reduce food waste as the food will get a ‘good’ destination (at Instock) anyway. Therefore Albert Heijn would not be incentivised to prevent food waste. However there are financial incentives for supermarkets to prevent food waste as it results in losses for the supermarket, which is still the case when Instock rescues food as they do not pay. When I visited Instock Den Haag (on 15-11-2017), the manager told me that supermarket Albert Heijn has become more conscious of the problem of food waste thanks to Instock and is taking action to reduce their food waste.

Bottom line: Food waste is a huge problem which cannot be resolved by initiatives like Instock and Kromkommer alone. However they are raising awareness for the issue and are a step towards the needed systematic change to reduce food waste.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

3 comments:

  1. Hey, very nice blog post! I was wondering, do you know how you can get rid of "best before labels"? Aren't there obstacles such as that when consumed, one could get food poisoning and then if it was before the "best before" date the seller would be liable? How about products with no such date then? I tried opening the link you have there but it was in dutch.
    Do you have ideas as to how to shift consumer perceptions of aestetics of food?

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    Replies
    1. Relevant:
      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/04/retailer-to-sell-food-past-its-best-before-date-in-bid-to-cut-waste

      https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu_actions/date_marking_en

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    2. One of the solutions to reduce food waste is to expand the list of products that do not need a best before date, which is possible without any food safety risk for several products. This is the case for food in packages that are impermeable for water and air like tins and for frozen food.
      Annex X of EU regulation No 1169/2011 contains a list of products for which the date of minimum
      durability is not required. This could be expanded to the products I mentioned above - but for now producers are required to print a 'best before' date on those products.
      http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32011R1169&from=EN

      As on how to change consumer's perceptions of food aesthetics, I believe this can be done through providing information at schools, through media campaigns by influencers e.g. chef cooks, and by initiatives like Instock and Kromkommer.

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