Monday, 18 February 2013

Think before you buy - act before you toss - the cost of food waste in Australia

The following extract is from the National Food Waste Assessment - Final Report prepared last year for the Australian Government by the Institute of Sustainable Futers and the University of Technology Sydney.


The increased generation of food waste is a global and national problem. It has several facets, all of which can benefit from a clear understanding of the size and nature of food waste generated across all phases of the food production and consumption cycle. Of most concern to many stakeholders is the impact food waste has on the generation of greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and carbon dioxide. However, there are also growing concerns about the economic and environmental viability of existing food waste disposal systems, as well as interest in food waste as a resource input to agriculture.

Many studies have been undertaken to assess food waste in Australia. This data assessment project has collated and reviewed the quality and nature of 1262 such studies, ranging from regional waste management authority reporting and research papers to national studies, and presented the results in the form of an extensive spreadsheet database and this report. While many of these studies may be of sufficient quality and relevance for their intended purpose (e.g. a physical waste audit of a specific company undertaken to inform a waste management strategy for that company), it is not possible to aggregate the data from all such studies to make sufficiently accurate conclusions about food waste data at the national (or even state) level. This view has been formed on the basis that the available data is extremely variable in terms of what is being studied (packaging, food waste, ‘green waste’, non-specified or ‘other’ waste), geographical coverage, methodology and sampling approaches.

When considered together, existing studies related to food waste data (e.g. proportion of putrescible waste in residential solid waste streams) indicate that Australian data on food waste generation and fate (e.g. landfill, recovered, collected for charitable redistribution) is on the whole scarce, fragmented and disaggregated. This research has confirmed that for most phases of the food production cycle this characterisation is accurate.

Although the absence of rigorously measured and verifiable data presents an uncomfortable degree of uncertainty for policy development processes, the implications of different approaches can be explored on a theoretical basis using existing estimates. For example, preliminary evaluations of several studies by federal and state government indicate that existing food waste management practices are contributing to Australia’s greenhouse gas burden and creating opportunity costs from lost productivity.
Policy developed to respond to these and other challenges will require a much larger and more consistent base of data if confident progress in these areas is to be achieved.

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