Monday, February 26, 2024

Waste not, want not

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More of us should follow the example of an Otago council that is trialling an innovative solution to a growing problem in NZ, writes Craig Page.
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When it comes to wasting food, New Zealand sits firmly in the “must do better” category.

The country’s fertile soils and climate are perfect for growing meat and a variety of produce. But increasingly more and more of those products are going to waste, either at the production end or by consumers.

Last year’s Rabobank-KiwiHarvest Food Waste survey showed NZ’s overall food waste bill continued to climb, up 2.6% to reach $3.2 billion. It’s equivalent to the cost of feeding 688,000 New Zealanders for a year.

The survey – undertaken in late July and early August – also found the value of food wasted per household remains relatively unchanged ($1510 from $1520 last year) due to higher food prices.  

The key reasons for wasting food continue to be “food going off before you can finish it” (50%) and “before use-by and best-before dates” (32%), while the major food waste concerns remain  “cost” (74%) and “feelings of guilt that other people around NZ going without” (35%).

Vegetables (38%), bread (29%) and fruit (25%) are the three top spots on the food waste list.

Concerns over just how much food is being wasted prompted a group of University of Otago researchers to launch a national food waste audit in a bid to find out why we waste so much food.

The research aims to capture all imported or domestically produced food and drink throughout the food supply chain. Foods produced in NZ include products from plants, animals, aquaculture and fisheries.

The United Nations estimates 13.3% of the world’s food is lost after harvesting and before reaching retail markets. 

The Central Otago District Council (CODC) is showing initiative in this space, taking a proactive approach to reducing food waste in its region.

Central Otago is the southern fruit bowl, a huge producer of summer delicacies such as cherries, apricots and peaches. But the strict demands for export quality products means that if fruit doesn’t cosmetically look the part then it doesn’t make the grade. Depending on weather conditions, wastage can be significant.

In 2022 the CODC commissioned a report – Understanding Fruit Loss in Central Otago – that determined about 6155 tonnes of fruit in the region go to waste each year.

On average 2207t of Central Otago cherries are discarded or not harvested due to imperfections. That will increase as new plantings reach peak production. 

A working party of industry, growers and food manufacturers was established, and tasked with coming up with ways of using more locally grown fruit that would otherwise go to waste.

Alexandra’s Eden Orchards was already converting processing-grade cherries into cherry juice – collecting cherries from local orchards – and agreed to a 12-month trial to produce individually quick-frozen cherries. Surprisingly, frozen cherries are not produced in this country.

It is early days, but the project is looking like a viable option for orchardists.

At a time when many families are struggling financially, it seems unfathomable that so much food is allowed to go to waste. The CODC has shown that, with a bit of thought and direction, we can all do better.

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