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5 August 2020

Food Waste in Aotearoa – Opportunities & Solutions

Food Waste in Aotearoa – Opportunities & Solutions

Associate Professor Miranda Mirosa (Director of Otago University’s Food Waste Innovation Research Team), presented on behalf of the NZFSSRC about the opportunities & solutions regarding New Zealand’s food wastage.

Introduction

With every crisis there is opportunity, during the COVID-19 crisis, surplus food waste was created due to the forced shutdown of plants and normal food supply channels. The speed in which the COVID-19 changes happened left the food destined for restaurants stranded within the supply chain. Companies became more aware that with sudden channel disruptions, they needed to quickly shift manufacturing lines to repurpose product to new consumer markets. Consumers also became more “food smart” during the lockdown, resulting in less waste.

The Shocking Statistic & Why We Should Care

Approximately one third of food produced globally ends up going to waste (FAO 2011) and is not exclusive to one food type or supply chain point. Food waste has huge implications on the condition of the planet. Reducing waste will help contribute to the Paris agreement on climate change and help sustainably feed the planet by 2050. It is clear that people are not hungry due to global food shortages and that if we can recover half of the amount of food that is currently wasted, that alone is enough to feed the world population.

Food that is wasted also squanders scarce resources that go into production. In addition, 8% of the global greenhouse gas emissions are due to food loss and waste, which leads to “reducing food waste” being rated as the third best global solution to address climate change.  Reduced food waste will also reduce the costs of production because for every $1 invested there is a 14-fold return.

Food in New Zealand

New Zealand is an export orientated country but has been falling behind in the efforts to reduce food waste. In 2018, the New Zealand government investigated ways of preventing food wastage. The three-stage approach proposed to New Zealand has:

  • As a target – requires developing targets aligned with SDG 12.3 and defining what food waste is.
  • As measurement – measured and/or self-reported data by sectors on food waste.
  • As action – R&D of value-added products from waste, sector specific educative prevention initiatives and upscaling food recovery efforts.

Research

University of Otago’s food waste innovation research group’s goal is to harness the best scientific expertise to provide solutions to food waste problems. The goal is divided into 3 sub-themes: metrics & management, technical innovations and social innovations, where a multitude of projects that look into improving packaging, what drives food waste, etc.

Overall, COVID-19 provided the wake-up call needed to motivate the strengthening and the increased resilience of the food supply systems in the face of abrupt changes to supply chains. Another learning is that reducing food loss and waste is everyone’s responsibility and that the individual effort is key to the success of reducing food waste.