How much food is being wasted in New Zealand?
A group of University of Otago researchers is determined to find out and, with support from the government, has launched a national food waste audit.
Food Waste Innovation Otago has been awarded a contract by the Ministry for the Environment to estimate food waste in New Zealand, in response to a select committee investigation into food waste in 2020 .
Research lead Professor Sheila Skeaff, of the Department of Human Nutrition, said the group will be measuring food loss and waste across the food supply chain.
The scope of the research aims to capture all imported or domestically produced food and drink throughout the food supply chain. Foods produced in New Zealand include products from plants, animals, aquaculture and fisheries.
“It includes food waste happening in processing or manufacturing, at the wholesale, retail and redistribution stages, and food wasted at home or out-of-home during preparation and consumption,” she said.
Skeaff said the study will involve analysing 2022 food production data, and interviews with farmers, producers, food distribution, retail, industry, food service, and hospitality businesses. The group is also keen to find out where food waste ends up.
Australia recently carried out a similar study and Skeaff said they would use some of the information to help frame their work
“We can’t go to every farmer, clearly. But I do think that some people in the industry have a pretty good idea of what their food waste is, so we’ll look at that.”
Skeaff said food waste is a huge issue worldwide, but the difficulty is knowing what to do about it.
Food waste has negative environmental, social and economic impacts through wasting of resources, greenhouse gas emissions, missed opportunities to achieve food security, and the economic cost to producers, retailers and consumers.
A lot of time, effort and money goes into growing and producing food and when wasted it often ends up in landfills, creating more greenhouse gas emissions.
“That’s the situation where it becomes a waste of resources the whole way along.
“We have to balance that and be pragmatic because we can’t save everything. Sometimes things don’t meet specifications or you have a weather event and crops are destroyed, but we have to do what we can.”
Skeaff felt the majority of food waste in New Zealand comes at the consumer end of the production line, through cafes, restaurants and in the home.
“Because production is about incomes and generating incomes there are a lot of things that happen along the food supply chain that makes sure there is a minimisation of food loss and waste.
“When it gets to the consumer, because there is lower link with production itself, there is probably quite a bit of waste happening.”
Food waste in the home is a big part of the problem and “that requires a totally different approach because you’ve got to change people’s behaviour and the way they shop”.
The United Nations estimates 13.3% of the world’s food is lost after harvesting and before reaching retail markets. Food that is lost and wasted accounts for 38% of the total energy used in the global food system.
The UN has set 17 Sustainable Development Goals for member states, including to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. Under this goal, member states aim to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030.
Skeaff said Food Waste Innovation Otago will report back to the Ministry for the Environment by the end of the year. It will then be up to the ministry “to decide what interventions they want to carry out”.