In a bid to tackle food wastage, the Indian government recently announced plans to fix food portion sizes served in star hotels and restaurants.
The proposal came after PM Modi labelled food wastage as ‘injustice to the poor’ in his recent Mann Ki Baat. Ram Vilas Paswan, minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, followed the PM’s concerns with comments reported by the Hindustan Times: “If a person can eat only two prawns, why should he or she be served six? If a person eats two idlis, why serve four! It’s wastage of food and also money people pay for something that they don’t eat.”
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reports that roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, gets lost or wasted. A staggering statistic considering that roughly one in nine people in the world do not have enough to eat, according to The Hunger Project.
FAO estimates that even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.
Food wastage is a global problem. In the more developed countries of the Western world, consumers contribute heavily to the high amount of wasted food, whereas in lesser developed countries, it’s the retailers that waste the most. For example, statistics reported by FAO note that in Europe and North America, waste by consumers per capita is between 95-115 kg a year whilst in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, for the same, the figure is only 6-11 kg a year.
Food wastage is everyone’s problem. It’s not something that is just for big companies to provide a solution for, the responsibility belongs to everyone.
The Indian government’s proposed cap of food portions is not the only attempt by India to curb the problem. The Robin Hood Army, a volunteer based organisation that works to get surplus food from restaurants to the less fortunate sections of society, began in 2014 when a group of six friends from Delhi took to the streets with one simple aim: to feed the homeless. In one night they had driven to restaurants, collected unsold food, re-packaged it and distributed it to around 100 homeless people.
With the aid of a social media campaign, the movement gained huge momentum and now boasts a 500-strong volunteer base spread out across 13 cities in India and last year saw it spread to neighboring Pakistan.
Elsewhere in South India, Minu Pauline, owner of popular food joint Pappadavada in Kochi, installed a 420-litre fridge outside her restaurant to be used exclusively to store food for the hungry. Passersby are free to donate food, so that homeless and hungry people have access to food whenever they need it.
Similarly in Bengaluru in 2016, a ‘fridge of kindness’ was opened by Lebanese restaurant Byblos which stored leftovers of food from the day and any extra food and can be accessed by the city’s homeless and hungry.
Individuals and organisations in countries around the world are stepping up and devising innovative methods and campaigns, such as these examples from India, in an attempt to tackle the issue of food wastage, and they are having some great impacts. Here are some more examples from across the globe:
According to latest figures by the waste and recycling advisory body Wrap, an estimated 7.3m tonnes of household food waste was thrown away in 2015, more than half of which was edible and could have been avoided.
Wrap found that most consumers were either unaware of their personal contribution to food wastage or were in denial of their responsibility. Consequently, Wrap have been calling on all businesses, organisations, campaigners and NGOs who work in this area, to work with consumers in an attempt to raise awareness, increase education and change people’s perceptions of food waste.
Major supermarket retailer Sainsbury’s recently launched a ‘waste less, save more’ campaign, which includes talking bins that give advice as rubbish is put in them, technology for home fridges that tracks when food is about to go bad, educational programmes for schools and community centres, new packaging to keep products fresher for longer and reward programmes to encourage recycling.
Another example is Fareshare, an independent charity that collects food from supermarkets, cafe chains, bakeries and other retailers that would otherwise be discarded and distributes it to 2,020 charities across the country. The charity’s work in one year alone saw the redistribution of 7,360 tonnes of food, 15.3 million meals provided and saved the British voluntary sector an estimated £19 million.
Worldwatch, a global research institute, estimates that in China $32 billion worth of food is thrown away every year, meanwhile 128 million Chinese live below the poverty line, and often lack sufficient food.
Insufficient resources and a lack of facilities have been cited as barriers to both consumers and retailers saving food from being wasted. Between China, Japan and South Korea, 50% of the world’s vegetables are produced, 40% of which ends up wasted.
Graduate Zhang Qinyu, who hails from the country’s apple capital Xianyang in Shaanxi province, has set up an online firm that helps connect rural farmers with hungry consumers in urban China. His online company, the Shaanxi Yihong Agricultural Technology Company, links the farmers directly to customers via Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, making it easier for farmers to sell their fruit and vegetables so less goes to waste.
Japan is one of the countries on the top-three list of the world’s largest contributors to food waste. In 2001 the issue worked its way onto the nation’s political agenda and the country enacted a ‘Food Wastage Law.’ Initially, the law encouraged businesses to create cyclical manufacturing processes that would reduce food waste, reuse their food waste, and recycle any leftover waste and it was later revised in 2007 to encourage businesses to turn their waste into compost or animal feed. The success of the Food Waste Recycling Law allowed the Japanese food industry to reduce, reuse, and recycle an average of 82% of its food waste in 2010.
Germany and Austria
In December 2012, an online platform, Foodsharing, that saves and distributes surplus food in Germany and Austria, was launched. On Foodsharing, individuals, retailers and producers can offer or collect food that would otherwise be thrown away and a team of over 500 ambassadors, who work as volunteers, pick up the food and distribute it through public storage places. The project’s goal is to fight everyday food waste and to raise awareness about this problem in society.
Stop Spild Af Mad or ‘Stop Wasting Food’ identified store promotions such as ‘Buy-one-get-one-free’ and other quantity-based discounts as adding to food waste by encouraging consumers to buy more than they need. Their campaign encouraged Danish supermarket Rema 1000 to replace such promotions with general discounts in all of its stores. Since its launch in July 2008, the movement has helped Denmark to reduce its food wastage by 25%.